Vizio Smart TVs Are Watching You Back Even Harder Than Most


Most smart TVs watch you back, to some extent. There’s money — a lot of money — to be had in user data, and advertising makes the world go ’round. Even accepting that, though, there are limits on what one generally should and should not have to expect when it comes to privacy-invading televisions, and new reports indicate that one manufacturer has gone well past that line.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports explained earlier this year how Samsung, Vizio, and LG all work with third-party companies to capture user data and better target advertising. But Vizio goes farther than the competition, ProPublica has found, and not in a good way.

For starters, Vizio models ship with tracking turned on by default, where other brands let you opt-in, ProPublica reports. And not only that, but Vizio’s data connects to far more third-party sources than the other brands do.

Vizio’s TVs capture what you’re watching, when, and how — so, for example, they know if you’re watching live broadcast TV, or something on your DVR, or on-demand programming from your cable provider, or an app like Netflix. All of the smart TVs can do that. But Vizio then goes farther: they then match that data to your IP address, which makes it personal. Because from your IP address, they can match it to third-party data sources that have a pretty good fix on your other demographic information: age, income, gender, and other marketable bits of information.

As ProPublica explains, that clear picture of who you are and how to market to you is then a profile worth a lot of money, which Vizio can then sell to other parties who, in turn, can match it to any other device you have using the same IP address.

Pause and think for a moment about how many wired and wireless devices there are in your home, on your home network. Even if your household is only a couple of people, when you add the computers, TVs, phones, tablets, game consoles, and any other connected or smart devices together, it adds up pretty quickly. And those are all matches that can be made with that IP address data, from your phone to your fridge.

If your TV thinks you like a lot of shows that tend to correlate with coffee consumption and then shows you coffee ads on your TV, well, that’s one thing. If your TV thinks you like a lot of shows that tend to correlate with coffee consumption and then starts putting coffee ads on your phone, that’s another. And if your roommate, spouse, kids, or other members of your household also get those coffee ads on their phones and tablets, that’s a third, even sketchier, thing.

Better yet: Vizio does not even say they will encrypt the IP addresses of their users before sharing them willy-nilly with third parties.

ProPublica points out that your cable company is prohibited by law from sharing this level of information about their subscribers’ programming consumption, but Vizio says it is under no such obligation.

Own a Vizio Smart TV? It’s Watching You [ProPublica]