Two years ago, you may have heard about the FTC fining Vizio, the TV manufacturer, for being naughty. What did they do that was so wrong? They were spying on you and selling your information to third parties.
We are in the age of smart technology, where your doorbell is a security device that can capture detailed footage, your phone can be used to turn your home’s lights on or off, and your car can park itself. Why not TVs too?
In the world of television making, there is a reason why some of these big, smart models are less expensive than their counterparts. It is because the companies that make them are receiving revenue in ways other than selling them. They sell your info instead.
Vizio settled out of court with the FTC, leading them to change how they operate. They were caught tracking and selling user information on demographics like your age, location, or marital status, and your viewing habits which included the likes of cable shows or Blu-Ray movies. Yes, all that.
At the time, the TVs were on a default setting that automatically tracked this data, not giving users the choice of whether or not they wanted their information collected. That information was sold and used to create targeted advertising. Ever felt like ads know you and your habits?
These days, if you’re not paying attention to the privacy and consent settings on your television, you may miss where it gives you the option to consent to these data collection practices or not. People who open themselves up to sharing their digital identity grant the TV maker permission to share this info with companies who are willing to pay for it.
That’s why those TVs are so “cheap”, and Vizio is not the only one doing it. This was uncovered during a podcast on The Verge, where Vizio’s CEO spoke about how much markup would be necessary if companies weren’t dealing in data and ads.
The good news is that you can opt in or out of this tracking thing, and it’s typically done when you are setting up your smart TV. However, you can also turn these settings off later. Check your Vizio, LG, Samsung, or other TV for their “ACR” settings or “User Agreements.” In newer sets, ACR is the technology being used to gather this information.
But, like smartphones, they make this process tricky by explaining some features may be disabled if you turn those settings off. That includes your ability to stream content. If you want to toggle the data tracking features off, it is best to consult your user manual or check out this guide on Consumer Reports.
Now that you know how things work behind the scenes, we wonder if that will affect how and if you purchase smart TVs in the future. At the very least, will you start paying attention to all those questions they ask you during the setup phase?
Did you know your TV was collecting your data? Were you aware that you could consent (or not) to this action? Do you mind this practice as long as it makes TVs affordable?