Vizio smart TVs track what you watch, sell the behavior data

Behavior tracking is enabled by default and lets advertisers follow you beyond the television. But it’s not much worse than the status quo.

Vizio televisions have a reputation for excellent picture quality at low prices, but as a new report shows, the trade-off is aggressive behavior tracking by default.

The report by ProPublica calls out Vizio for diving deeper into data collection than its rival TV makers. The company’s “Smart Interactivity” feature is enabled by default, and analyzes everything that happens on the TV, from watching movies to playing games. Vizio then associates the usage data with an IP address, which can then identify other Internet-connected devices in the home.

What happens to the data? Vizio says it shares “non personal identifiable information” with partners for targeted content and advertising. ProPublica also claims that Vizio combines the viewing data with other information from Neustar, a data broker, presumably to build a more complete profile of the user. This data is supposed to be anonymized, but ProPublica notes that it’s increasingly possible to link IP addresses to individuals, and Vizio’s policy doesn’t mention encryption for the IP address.

To Vizio’s credit, you can opt out of this data collection. The company’s website even provides clear instructions on how to do so. But Vizio is clearly banking on the hope that most people won’t bother. A recent SEC filing ahead the company’s planned Initial Public Offering boasts of a system for “highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy.”

Smart TV makers have earned unwanted attention for their data collection practices before. In February, Samsung scrambled to update its privacy policy after users found that their voice commands were being collected and stored, without any encryption. And in 2013, LG was found to be uploading information on file names from USB and networked storage devices, only fixing the problem after it got caught.

Why this matters: While Vizio’s policy appears to be less privacy-friendly than other smart TV and streaming device makers, it’s not by a huge margin. LG’s privacy policy also allows for collecting and sharing viewer habits, as does the policy for Roku media streamers. And when you use Android TV or Chromecast, you’re subject to Google’s privacy policy that lets the company track you across all of its online services. Companies that explicitly do not track your viewing habits are getting harder to find.

This story, "Vizio smart TVs track what you watch, sell the behavior data" was originally published by TechHive.

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