As our devices grow smarter and more connected it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll get better services and features as a result. One such device that’s already making its way into our homes is the humble TV. We already have smart devices that connect to our TVs, such as the AppleTV and Google’s Chromecast device, but the manufacturers themselves are also adding more functionality. However, what these devices are doing is worth a second look.

A recent post by DoctorBeet, examines what his LG TV was doing when he noticed advertising on the homescreen. This led him to discover that LG was offering a Smart Ad service to advertisers, based on customers’ data. The LG site has since been taken down but apparently “LG Smart Ad analyses users favourite programs, online behaviour, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences.” Furthermore, there was a setting on the TV itself called “Collection of watching info”, where the default setting was ‘ON’. All of this seems quite invasive, since the TV was purchased outright so it’s not a case of trading privacy for something that’s free. You’d think that turning the collection setting to ‘OFF’ would largely solve the issue but this story isn’t that simple. You should read the post in full, but a brief summary is below.

DocterBeet turned off the collection setting and then decided to examine his internet traffic. Apparently the viewing data was being regardless of the setting on the TV, which completely breaks user expectations. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the TV was scanning external USB drives and sending back that data too. Sometimes just the filenames but sometimes all the content too. When LG was contacted about the problems, their response was baffling. Essentially, they claimed that DoctorBeet had “accepted the Terms and Conditions on [their] TV” and implied there was nothing they could do. Since DoctorBeet is a technically savvy customer, he created rules on his home router to prevent any further connections to LG’s computers, while ensuring he could still get the software updates.

This case highlights a potential trend where devices that we’ve paid for are still attempting to collect user-data for the purpose of advertising. A case of you are both the customer and the product. What’s equally concerning is that one technically able customer was able to understand what was going on but the majority of users would have been none-the-wiser.

The next few years are going to be interesting as more news like this breaks and people become more aware of how desperate companies are to learn about their users. The irony is that if the customers had a real voice, many of them may be willing to trade with the companies and provide them access to data-sets, assuming a safe and secure way to do so was available. We’re working on a platform as part of the Hub of all Things project, where companies and customers can do exactly this. There may be other users who want to have more control over their home networks so we’re also looking at novel ways to allow people to interact and configure home routers.

The Internet of Things and connected devices have the potential to be as ground-breaking as the Web but end-users must also be empowered if we are to reap all the benefits.

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