Facing Backlash And A UK Govt Inquiry, LG Now Claims To Be 'Looking Into' Its Smart TVs' Data-Slurping Habits

from the oh,-NOW-you're-on-it dept

Before companies expend a ton of effort into managing their social media activities, they should spend some time getting acquainted with how the internet actually works. The net provides a framework for information to spread around the world nearly instantaneously. The lesson here is that there’s no such thing as an “isolated incident.” You can’t just blow off one person’s complaint simply because it came from one person. Because it’s never going to be just one person. It’s going to be thousands. Or millions. [There will always be time later to leverage the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to sell products.]

Case in point #1: geek toy boutique KlearGear uses a bogus non-disparagement clause as an excuse to bill a complaining customer $3,500 and wreck her credit rating. One person who complained translated into a internet’s-worth of negative press. KlearGear has no social media to “manage” anymore because it has locked down its Twitter account and deleted its Facebook presence. And it’s all because they targeted one person with a supremely underhanded “contract.”

Case in point #2: A blogger notices data about files on his USB storage device are being transferred to LG’s servers (in unencrypted form, no less and without permission) by his LG Smart TV. He contacts LG and receives a letter blowing off his complaints and suggesting he take it up with his local retailer.

Cut to a couple of days later and LG’s tune has changed completely.

[W]hen the BBC contacted LG, it indicated it was looking into the complaint.

“Customer privacy is a top priority at LG Electronics and as such, we take this issue very seriously,” said a spokesman.

“We are looking into reports that certain viewing information on LG Smart TVs was shared without consent.

LG originally blew off the blogger’s complaint because, hey, it was just one guy. But it’s never “one guy.” Not anymore. The story has now been covered worldwide and has caught the attention of the UK’s regulatory body charged with enforcing data privacy laws.

The Information Commissioner’s Office told the BBC it was looking into the issue.

“We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach which may involve LG Smart TVs,” said a spokesman.

“We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.”

To hugely repurpose a Bible verse, if you do this to the least of my brethren, you’ve pretty much done it to everyone. Companies can’t afford to offhandedly dismiss single complaints. At the very least, their responses need to be tailored to specific issue rather than just a boilerplate regurgitation that lets the complainant know he or she isn’t being heard.

And when implementing policies or altering terms and conditions, companies need to think each addition or subtraction through very carefully. Rather than assume no one will ever find out because no one reads T&C pages, companies need to ask themselves, “What would happen if EVERYONE found out about this?” Because the likelihood is that everyone will. And unless your social media strategy is solely composed of unplugging accounts when faced with multiple raging fires, whatever you have implemented at the moment isn’t going to be up to the task should you opt to do something regrettable.

The world may be composed of individuals, but “getting screwed by a company” is a universal concept. Nothing unites people faster than outrage. Keep that in mind before you start siphoning data without permission or ruining people’s credit record with fraudulent charges.

[Update: Things appear to be moving very quickly back at LG HQ. Just as this post was set to roll out the virtual door, news arrives that LG is issuing a firmware update to fix one of its data collection issues.

In a statement, LG said that its smart TVs collect viewing information like channel, TV platform, and broadcast source in order to “deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching.”

The company’s TVs include the option to turn off this data collection, but “we have verified that even when this function is turned off by the viewers, it continues to transmit viewing information although the data is not retained by the server,” LG said.

“A firmware update is being prepared for immediate rollout that will correct this problem on all affected LG Smart TVs so when this feature is disabled, no data will be transmitted,” the company said.

Now, if it can just get it to stop scanning attached drives and gathering that data as well… Until that’s addressed, at least simply turning off the data transmission will keep that info from going anywhere.]

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Comments on “Facing Backlash And A UK Govt Inquiry, LG Now Claims To Be 'Looking Into' Its Smart TVs' Data-Slurping Habits”

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51 Comments
DannyB (profile) says:

1984 Telescreens

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Once upon a time, a running joke on Usenet was about an email that would give you a virus if you merely opened it. Funny, ha, ha. Everyone knew it couldn’t happen. But Microsoft made it happen.

Now we have LG tv’s that watch you.

It seems funny that LG would scan your network and also report back file names shared on the local network. No mention of that in their official response? Why does LG want to know what files I have on my local servers within my internal home network?

Maybe next LG will upload one of those files to the mother ship?

Or maybe the reverse. If a local file share is writable, your TV could download a file from the mother ship and write it onto one of your file servers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well I will politely disagree here, if that one person is ootb there is no real problem in ignoring it, he probably is paid by Microsoft too but I am just guessing here.

http://www.wired.com/design/2013/11/what-is-microsoft-thinking-with-these-goofy-anti-google-products/

On the other hand if you receive a communique from a customer with real data you should send in the assassins or pay attention and respond with at least an appearance that you give a fuck.

Also LG has promised to stop scanning files on USB drives and shared folders.

It has also been reported that the names of media files stored on external drives such as USB flash devices are being collected by LG Smart TVs. While the file names are not stored, the transmission of such file names was part of a new feature being readied to search for data from the internet (metadata) related to the program being watched in order to deliver a better viewing experience. This feature, however, was never fully implemented and no personal data was ever collected or retained. This feature will also be removed from affected LG Smart TVs with the firmware update.

LG regrets any concerns these reports may have caused and will continue to strive to meet the expectations of all our customers and the public. We hope this update clears up any confusion.

http://grahamcluley.com/2013/11/lg-firmware-update-spy-tv/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lg-firmware-update-spy-tv

John Fenderson (profile) says:

LG said that its smart TVs collect viewing information like channel, TV platform, and broadcast source in order to “deliver more relevant advertisements”

Damn, I’ve grown to hate that bit of boilerplate. It makes it sound as if “more relevant advertisements” is a benefit to the user, when it’s not.

The phrase sounded insulting to me when I first heard it, and it hasn’t grown any better.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: "more relevant advertisements"

@ “John Fenderson” Damn, I’ve grown to hate that bit of boilerplate. It makes it sound as if “more relevant advertisements” is a benefit to the user, when it’s not.

The phrase sounded insulting to me when I first heard it, and it hasn’t grown any better.


“Tech companies large and small have long been trying to use smartphones to connect consumers? online activity to what they do in ?real? life. Google is now telling advertisers it has a way to do just that ? and it involves tracking consumers? smartphone locations all the time, wherever they go, even when they?re not using a Google app.”

http://digiday.com/platforms/google-tracking/

Guess you’ll go with the “has permission” excuse for Google’s spying, but it’s exactly what you seem to object to in the phrase: TARGETED CORPORATE SPYING.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: "more relevant advertisements"

it involves tracking consumers? smartphone locations all the time, wherever they go, even when they?re not using a Google app.

This is a highly misleading bit of copy. The rest of the article makes it plain that they’re talking about using Google’s location services data to match up with what you search for in the Google search app. Technically, the location services is not an app — but it is a setting that can be (and should be) disabled. Google search is, obviously, an app.

All of it is still optional, and can be easily avoided by people who care. Do I think these things should be opt-in rather than opt-out? Absolutely. But still, you can opt out.

Guess you’ll go with the “has permission” excuse for Google’s spying, but it’s exactly what you seem to object to in the phrase: TARGETED CORPORATE SPYING.

You really have no clue what I think, do you? I’ve never, ever “excused” Google’s spying. I probably object to it more than you do, since I go to extremes to avoid it.

What I have said, and continue to assert, is that it is different in kind from governmental spying, and that governmental spying is worse, because you can avoid Google’s spying, and you cannot avoid governmental spying.

That is a far cry from excusing anything.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "more relevant advertisements"

This is Blue you’re talking about, any time a company that isn’t google is mentioned in a negative fashion, they’ll be jumping right in to defend them, and/or try and deflect attention away from them.

What makes it really funny this time, is that despite Blue always going on and on about how evil google is for spying on you, here they are trying to divert attention away from a company that… wait for it… spies on it’s customers, and in a manner that was impossible to notice without a some hefty digging and tech know-how.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "more relevant advertisements"

Oh, believe me I know. I just want to keep this irony in the open – blue is literally defending LG (whose multi-hundred dollar products spy on their customers without their knowledge) by trying to deflect attention to Google (a company that most users know “spies” (and has admitted it), but accept it as the price of using their useful free products).

There’s a fractal of stupidity with each of his posts, but I want to make sure he’s aware that he’s defending a spying corporation first.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I work at a company that does software for broadcast media. We’ve been really successful, to the point where we’ve become the market leader and a lot of stations, including just about all the major networks with 3 letters in their names, run on our software.

A while back, we started looking at ways to implement “addressable ads,” or targeted advertising like this. I always thought that was kind of creepy, but hey, it’s a living. Then the NSA scandals started to break, and that’s when I started looking for another line of work.

I found one. Next week is my last week here. After that I’ll be doing software to help improve medical diagnoses and lab research. 🙂

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

good on you…

it is difficult to escape the maw of capitalist imperialism because of their dominance and prevalence…

i have nothing but sympathy -particularly for parents with kids- for people who are working for institutions which they feel uncomfortable being associated with, but they have no practical choice…

The Man has us by the short and curlies…

particularly these days, job prospects are for shit…

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It makes it sound as if “more relevant advertisements” is a benefit to the user, when it’s not.

In this case it’s worse than usual:

recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching

It looks like they’re suggesting that there’s a particular demographic with similar tastes likely to buy an LG TV over any other brand and that meaningful “recommendations” can be made on the strength of it… seriously??

Anonymous Coward says:

so, LG are facing a backlash and a government enquiry, for spying on what customers watch, but the UK government, via GCHQ and friends (NSA etc) can spy as much as they like, how they like on who they like, where they like, through any means they like and it’s perfectly alright? you have got to be kiddin’ me!!

out_of_the_blue says:

Case in point #3 through 5000: Google, once people wake up!

Then Facebook has the next several thousand, and so on.

Kids, I bring up Google so often here because of otherwise near complete lack of mention. ALL SPYING IS BAD, and one can’t possibly seriously worry about LG in comparison to Google’s core business. So why is there no mention of Google?


Google’s ability to target you for advertising is EXACTLY what NSA needs to target you as political dissident, NOT coincidentally.

11:20:24[m-401-6]

Rabbit80 (profile) says:

Re: Case in point #3 through 5000: Google, once people wake up!

The thing with Google is that I know they are harvesting my data – and I am guilty of letting them do that. For that priveledge, they give me some great things for FREE – we have Google maps / streetview – including on my phone which runs a Google operating system (that I get FREE, remember when sat-nav was expensive?), A secure modern browser which is FREE, a fantastic search engine which is FREE, many of Googles services that rely on the harvested information are genuinely useful, etc etc…

In the case of LG in this story, the data was harvested WITHOUT permission or knowledge, overstepped the bounds of what might be acceptable and served no useful function for the end user (Most people would agree that additional advertising on your TV is excessive).

Google is very transparent about what they collect and how they use the info – LG has been dishonest and overstepped the mark.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Why opt-in is better than opt-out

With universal opt-in options for users, the purveyors of this cruft will have to tell you “We can provide more services if you let us spam you with ads. Here are the services you will get… Do you want? Y/N”. At least then it is your choice! Now, it is mostly “opt-out”. IE, no, no, no, no, no… ad-infinitum!

Guess which I would prefer…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Why opt-in is better than opt-out

I’d prefer full disclosure to either of those. As you rightly point out, if they’re getting you to opt in, they’ll say something like “access these neat features if you watch ads!”. Opt in or out, I’d prefer they have to disclose the “…but to get the ads you have to agree to everything you do with the TV being collected by us and 3rd parties”.

Opt in is certainly better, but it’s meaningless unless you know everything you’re opting in to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Would the EULA have made it alright?

Suppose you buy a Kinect, nobody reads the EULA and your Kinect mk3a comes with an EULA saying they can turn on the camera and spy on you.
Does the EULA make it alright?

Because I think these EULAs need to be once and for all killed. They are not contracts they are attempting to turn a sale into a contract after the fact. But one that isn’t negotiated or even read, and comes after the sale. Without reading or negotiation a contract before the sale how can you have agreed to it?

Then of course there’s the NSA. The NSA can ‘seize’ data with ‘compensation’ to catch ‘terrorists’. So can it simply compel a company to turn on the camera remotely? Onstar listened in on drivers without their knowing so the answer is likely yes, technically possible and the courts don’t bat an eye.

So we’re surrounded by Telescreens that are enabled by EULAs, and legal doesn’t matter anymore because the supplier claims you waived your legal rights in the EULA.

Your phones, your laptops, your TVs, your Xbox, all repurposed as surveillance devices.

davnel says:

Re: Would the EULA have made it alright?

I think this comes under the Supreme Court decision about “Shrink Wrap” agreements. Meaning if you open it up, or install it, you agree to the terms and conditions document. Microsoft got this through because the EULAs were posted on the outside of the box where you could read them before opening the package and therefore agreeing. The way LG is doing it, with no notice, and no way of knowing it even exists, until you open the package and start setting up the device has to be illegal. Especially since the dealers don’t seem to know about it either, and therefore can’t advise you.

This is having a definite adverse effect on my olfactory apparatus.

davnel says:

Re: Re: Re: Would the EULA have made it alright?

The note on the side of Microsoft’s boxes was a condensed,
essentials only, version.

“EULA’s are not worth the paper they are written on and do not stand up in court (at least here in the EU).”

That’s true. I wonder if the “open box” policy of that dealer could be legally challenged based on the fact that the “agreement” wasn’t available or visible until said box was opened and the device fired up for setup?

The Real Michael says:

There’s a special irony to people paying money for products which are then used to spy on them, conceding privacy for the sake of entertainment.

Funny how superior old tech really is to today’s in so many ways. No cameras and mics secretly recording, no onerous user “agreements,” no GPS tracking, no microtransactions, no remotely erasing things after a transaction was made. Seems to me that the more a company respects people’s rights/privacy, the more successful they’ll be going into the future. Respect is a two-way street.

DOlz (profile) says:

Not good enough

“In a statement, LG said that its smart TVs collect viewing information like channel, TV platform, and broadcast source in order to “deliver more relevant advertisements and to offer recommendations to viewers based on what other LG Smart TV owners are watching.” “

People buy your products and you make a profit. That does NOT give you the right to treat them like sheep to be sheared for a continueing income stream. If you want that business model let people know what you’re doing and give them the products.

“The company’s TVs include the option to turn off this data collection, but “we have verified that even when this function is turned off by the viewers, it continues to transmit viewing information although the data is not retained by the server,” LG said. “

And we should believe this why?

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