On behalf of my Dumb TV

I don’t have a “smart” set, and I might never if this becomes the order of the day:

Consumers have bought more than 11 million internet-connected Vizio televisions since 2010. But according to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, consumers didn’t know that while they were watching their TVs, Vizio was watching them. The lawsuit challenges the company’s tracking practices and offers insights into how established consumer protection principles apply to smart technology.

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent.

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. What’s more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs.

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details — for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.

I have been very happy with my Vizio set, especially now, since it’s too old to pull any of that crap. (I infer from the article that the retrofitting went back to 2010 models, and mine is a couple years older than that; certainly it’s not running a Net connection, though I suppose it could grab one from the cable were it, um, smart enough.)





9 comments

  1. Lynn »

    7 February 2017 · 7:53 am

    Just don’t connect your TV to the Internet and you’ll be fine even if it is a “smart” TV.

  2. CGHill »

    7 February 2017 · 8:03 am

    Point taken.

  3. fillyjonk »

    7 February 2017 · 9:27 am

    Business idea: “dumbifying” kits that will make Internet of Crap stuff not able to do Internet of Crap Things.

    If I were technically inclined, I’d invent this. Though I’m not sure what variety of alcohol I would name it after.

  4. In The Mailbox: 02.07.16 : The Other McCain »

    7 February 2017 · 2:12 pm

    […] Dustbury: On Behalf Of My Dumb TV […]

  5. Georganna Hancock »

    7 February 2017 · 6:16 pm

    Upon receiving my Vizio smart TV from Amazon, my first action was to go through all the gazillions of settings a consumer can adjust. Even though I wasn’t quite sure what one of them was, I opted out of this monitoring as a matter of course. Supposedly the TV only receives the WiFi signal and does not use it to send. I also RTFM for everything. Still. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do this … nor why they don’t comprehend statistics or enjoy filling out IRS forms.

  6. fillyjonk »

    8 February 2017 · 7:57 am

    I think people don’t do things like that because a lot of us are damnably busy, and taking an extra 25 minutes or whatever to disable a feature that shouldn’t be there in the first place seems like too much.

    All I can say is when my current (10 year old) tv dies, if I can’t find one without the “smart” features, I may just say “screw it” and go without. (Surely the bottom-of-the-line models aren’t part of the Internet of S***)

  7. McG »

    8 February 2017 · 10:35 am

    I have to wonder about this Smart TV panic though. How many people warning against this have a DVR? All Tivo DVRs connect to the internet, and if you see the recommendations at the top of the screen in “Tivo Central” you have to know that your DVR is also “spying on you”.

    I imagine all DVRs have this same capability.

  8. Rob O'Hara »

    12 February 2017 · 10:37 pm

    I have a Vizio smart television. I disabled that feature a few years ago when I first learned about it, but on at least two occasions I’ve turned my television on and seen a notification that the firmware had been enabled, and each time that happens, the feature reenables itself.

    For now the feature’s disabled, but really I’m just trusting Vizio that the feature is disabled, and anyone who would add such a feature to a television doesn’t seem that trustworthy in the first place.

  9. CGHill »

    13 February 2017 · 11:17 am

    Probably part of an automated update cycle.

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