Researchers: All Smart TVs spy on you, Sony monitors all channel switches

Posted 29 September 2014 17:09 CEST by Jan Willem Aldershoff

All Smart TV manufacturers monitor what users watch and what their interests are, according to a report from Dutch researchers. Users give TV manufacturers permission to collect and use the data when they accept their privacy terms. What data the TV manufacturers collect and for what reason is hidden in unclear legalese and wordy texts. Only Sony is clear in the communication to viewers, in their terms the Japanese electronics giant simply states, “We follow your viewing habits”.
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It’s very likely that TV owners simply click OK instead of reading the lengthy and complicated terms. But by accepting the privacy terms users permanently agree with everything the TV manufacturers want to with the data they collect. The Dutch research company Considerati was commissioned by the Dutch consumer organisation “Consumentenbond” to investigate the privacy terms of Smart TVs.
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The privacy terms are required by law to be clear on who collects data,  what data, with what purpose and with which parties the data is shared. TV manufacturers are also required to inform the user about the mentioned points before they start to collect the data, they need to ask for permission and consumers have the right to inspect the collected data and they need to be able to revoke the permission for collecting data.
The research report shows that TV  manufacturers often don’t meet the legal requirements, below an overview of the privacy terms of each TV manufacturer with several points important for privacy aware users.
LG
  • Terms consist of 16 pages
  • Text readability: reasonable
  • Unclear on what exactly is monitored
  • Lots of translation and grammar errors
  • Tries to reveal that personal data is collected, while according to law they collect data that is considered personal
Panasonic
  • Consists of 8 pages
  • Text readability: reasonable
  • The company is unclear what data it collects and for what purpose
  • Panasonic requests a fee to get access to the data they collect about the user. Costs are unclear
  • Forgot to replace placeholder text < Panasonic customers service > with actual contact possibilities
Philips
  • Privacy terms are 13 pages long
  • Text readability: good
  • Privacy terms can’t be accessed from the TV, only a summary that misses important information on collection of personal data
  • Philips is clear what data is collected and for which purpose
  • The company also mentions that data can be shared with third parties but is unclear with exactly what third parties

Samsung

  • Privacy terms are written on 57 pages and about 5000 words
  • Text readability: good
  • Samsung isn’t clear for what purpose it collects data. Terms also aren’t focused on Smart TVs and a large residual category “other information” is vague
  • Terms are cluttered and links are not clickable

Sony

  • Terms consist of 6 pages
  • Text readability: good
  • Sony is the most obvious on what data it collects and for what purpose
  • The manufacturer doesn’t properly state who collects and processes the data, doesn’t properly state consumer rights (the right to inspect, change and remove data) and provides no information on retention periods and security measures. The last two are not mandatory by law, but desirable.

Besides the privacy terms, also the behavior of the Smart TVs was monitored by the researchers. They found that when you reject the privacy terms, the TV will continue to work as a regular TV, however if you want to use the Smart TV functionality ,the privacy terms will pop up again and will need to be accepted.

The researchers also monitored the internet traffic of the TVs for several minutes and found that the inspected TVs send several MBs per minute to the manufacturers. Some of the data was encrypted but some parts weren’t. The analysis of the network traffic of TVs didn’t give a consistent result however Sony appears to be most aggressive in collecting data. The monitored Sony Smart TV sent data to Sony’s servers every time a channel was changed. Other TVs didn’t show this behavior.

All TVs, except for the Samsung TV, contacted the servers of the TV channels. It didn’t do so to collect data but to retrieve relevant information that can be accessed with the “red button” of the remote control.

The researchers conclude that most consumers have no idea of all internet traffic the TV generates, especially how often the TV  sends personal information to TV manufacturers.

The tested Smart TVs were the Philips 32PFK5509, LG 32LB650Vn, LG 32LB570V, Panasonic TX-32AS500, Samsung UE32H4500 and the Sony KDL-32W705B.


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