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How Vizio snooped on its customers and how to stop it



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Trade Commission says Vizio automatically tracked what people were watching and sent that info back to its servers without clearly telling them or getting their consent.

Cybersecurity expert Sean Lawson of the University of Utah’s Department of Communication says the tracking was hidden in a feature called "Smart Interactivity." Vizio suggested that feature would make helpful TV show and movie recommendations for people to watch, so many did not opt out.

“It’s not just in this case that the information in those statements in the terms of service or privacy policy — if you took the time to read it — was not clear. It’s also the case, the FTC found, they were being deceptive in their practices,” said Lawson. “So, not only were they not disclosing what they weren’t doing, they were in fact, being deceptive.”

Even more troubling to Lawson is that even though Vizio did not include names with the tracked info it sold to third parties, it did include viewers’ IP addresses.

“The internet protocol address can identify your house where the traffic is coming from,” said Lawson. “What we know from privacy researchers is this kind of information can be used to de-anonymize individuals. People can use that to figure out who you really are. Once they’ve done that, there’s a lot that can be gleaned about you as a person.”

Those gleanable details include not only your viewing habits, but also gender, age, income, education, marital status and more. And Lawson warns many smart TVs are a possible security risk for your family because of how they send data back to the company.

“In some cases, we find this info is being collected, transmitted and stored in ways that are not secure,” explained Lawson. “So that a hacker or someone who is listening in the middle could pull that info and get it because it’s not being secured in transit. There’s a lot of incentive for hackers to do that. They want to get that info to potentially make money off it.”

Going forward, Vizio says it will be upfront about its data collection practices and get your consent before it shares your info. Plus, it’s required to delete any data collected before March of last year.

Buying a “dumb” television with no internet connection is one option to avoid tracking. Or, you can simply not connect your Smart TV, though, some models will not work without an internet connection.

“These things are cool, I’m not going to deny,” Lawson told KSL. “I just bought a smart TV myself. It makes me a little nervous. It’s fun, and in a lot of cases these things are very useful. They do provide you things that give you value.”

But, Lawson warns you do pay for your TV’s interconnectivity features.

“It’s really not free,” said Lawson. “You’re paying for it, but you’re paying for it with your own personal information and with your privacy.

If you're concerned about the info your Smart TV has gathered about you, you can opt out.

  • For Vizio: Go to the “System” setting, choose “Reset & Admin” then “Smart Interactivity and select, “Off.”
  • For LG: Go to the “Options” menu, select “LivePlus” and then choose, “Off.”
  • For Samsung: Go to the “Smart Hub” menu, select “Terms & Policy” and then “SyncPlus and Marketing and then, “Disable.”

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Sloan Schrage

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