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Chinese smart TVs caught hoovering up data about devices on customers' networks

Graham CLULEY

May 07, 2021

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Chinese smart TVs caught hoovering up data about devices on customers' networks

Millions of smart TVs in China may have collected data without the knowledge of viewers about Wi-Fi networks found within range and attached devices.

According to the South China Morning Post, an owner of a Skyworth smart TV posted last month on a Chinese technical forum that their suspicions were aroused when they felt their TV’s operation had slowed down, and wondered what background processes might be running.

The unnamed user examined the code running on his Android-powered Skyworth TV, and discovered it was scanning for devices connected to their family’s Wi-Fi every 10 minutes, scooping up information:

“[It] sends back the hostname, mac, ip and even the network delay time. It also detects the surrounding wifi SSID names, The mac address is also packaged and sent to this domain name of gz-data.com.”

GZ-Data.com is the domain name of Gozen Data, a data analytics company that specializes in delivering targeted advertising to smart TVs.

Inevitably, the revelation fueled heated debate on the internet, with users angrily claiming that the TV sets were spying on them, and asking questions as to how the data would be used and who it might be ultimately sold onto.

The concern is a legitimate one, and not confined purely to smart TVs sold in China. In the past, snooping allegations have been made against TVs manufactured by the likes of LG and Vizio, for instance, with the intention of better targeting advertising.

Skyworth, the third-largest TV brand by sales in China, says that the data collection can be disabled on its smart TVs, while Gozen said that it would improve its privacy policy to “ensure we are collecting information with users’ consent”.

Because you all read the privacy policy when you set up your smart TV, right?

Perhaps reeling from the backlash, Skyworth says it has now ended its “cooperation” with Gozen Data and demanded that the company delete all of its “illegally” collected data.

Skyworth, which is the third biggest TV brand in China, by sales volume, told the South China Morning Post that it does pre-install its TVs with the Gozen Data app when sold in Hong Kong.

It’s time for all smart TV manufacturers to show more respect to their customers.

If we really benefit from intrusive ads and being tracked online, then maybe manufacturers of smart TVs should give us the option to enable these features rather than always forcing us to try to find a way to turn them off or opt-out?

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