Consumer Electronics Manufacturer LG Has a Reprehensible Privacy Policy

Linda Musthaler
By | December 03, 2013

Posted in: Network Security Trends

I came across a blog post the other day that really angers me. British IT consultant Jason Huntley wrote the detailed article LG Smart TVs logging USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers in mid November. He outlines how he discovered that his LG brand smart TV was collecting private data about his viewing habits and using it to serve customized ads. This was after Huntley supposedly turned off the option for LG to collect this information.

Huntley notes that the permission to collect his television viewing information is “on” by default and the smart TV owner has to find the option in a menu to turn it “off.” Huntley set the permission to “off” meaning no collection of data was permitted by him.

Huntley, being a tech-savvy guy, did some traffic analysis to see what data was being sent back to LG for its advertising network and he learned that the data was collected and transmitted regardless of the permission setting. The data packet contained information such as his unique device ID; the country and region code (in this case the region being the European Union where personal privacy is sacrosanct); and of course, the program viewing information, such as “BBC News.” This information is sent unencrypted to LG every time Huntley changes the channel on his TV, whether or not he permits it.

But it gets worse.

Huntley then noticed filenames were being posted to LG's servers and that these filenames were ones stored on his external USB hard drive. (Keep in mind that a smart TV is basically a computer with TV viewing capabilities.) This means that far more data than just his TV viewing habits were being sent to LG, and Huntley definitely did not give his permission for this.

He then contacted LG and asked them to comment on their policy on data collection, profiling of their customers, collection of usage information and mandatory embedded advertising on products that their customers had paid for. Their response to this was as follows:

Good Morning

Thank you for your e-mail.

Further to our previous email to yourself, we have escalated the issues you reported to LG's UK Head Office. 

The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer.  We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T's and C's at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG is unable to pass comment on their actions.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Kind Regards

Tom

LG Electronics UK Helpdesk
Tel: 0844 847 5454
Fax: 01480 274 000
Email: 
cic.uk@lge.com

UK: [premium rate number removed] Ireland: 0818 27 6954
Mon-Fri 9am to 8pm Sat 9am-6pm


Sunday 11am - 5pm

Unbelievably, LG told Huntley he had agreed to the Terms and Conditions – which presumably spelled out the company’s privacy policy and data usage policy – when he bought the smart TV, so he should refer any problems or questions back to the reseller.

As of this writing, there are almost 200 comments posted back to Huntley’s original blog post. Many of them are comments about further investigating or blocking traffic between smart TV owners and LG and other manufacturers. Quite a few people bring up the issue of violation of UK and EU laws that are designed to protect personal privacy. LG, a South Korean company, seems to thumb its nose at such laws by saying “you agreed to our T’s & C’s so deal with it, and if you have a problem with that, talk to the merchant that sold you the product.”

I find that kind of corporate attitude reprehensible and undeserving of my business in the future. I strongly suggest that if you have an interest in your own privacy, you pass by the LG smart TVs on display and choose a manufacturer that has more respect for its customers.

By the way, LG isn’t the only company with sneaky T’s & C’s. Read my previous post Nobody Reads Terms and Conditions, Do They? Pay Attention To What You Agree To!

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