Vizio Smart TVs may be watching you while you watch it

JC Torres - Nov 10, 2015, 3:30 am CST
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Vizio Smart TVs may be watching you while you watch it

Earlier this year, Samsung was accused of eavesdropping on owners of its Smart TVs, or at the very least transmitting data to hits servers in an unsafe manner. Although the issue has since then died down, we might actually have something far worse but thankfully probably less widespread. Vizio, a brand associated most with digital displays, has recently launched its new line of smart TVs. And with those come a smart feature that gathers data about your viewing habits, which Vizio can then sell to the highest bidder.

Vizio smart TVs come with a feature that the company dubs as “Smart Interactivity”. In a nutshell, it analyzes what is playing on the screen to identify the video or film. It can then use this data later on to surface related content like bonus features, polls, and, of course, advertisements. While seemingly innocuous, except for the part that it tracks your viewing habits, this Smart Interactivity has some very frightening implications.

Strike One: Unlike equivalent features on Samsung’s or LG’s smart TVs, Vizio’s Smart Interactivity is opt-out. Meaning, it is enabled by default and owners will have to disable it themselves. Presuming they know about it in the first place. Chances are, they don’t. Plus, nowhere does Vizio assure customers that the data it transmits and shares is encrypted or even anonymized.

Strike Two: Smart Interactivity gathers a lot of data concerning the video you are watching, including date, time, source, and even whether it’s life or recorded. And all of these are connected with the IP address your TV is using. These “non-personal identifiable” pieces of information, especially semi-permanent IP addresses that you may have at home, can actually be used to identify or at least profile you. A home network also usually has a single IP address shared among all connected devices, giving Vizio and its “partners” potential insight into your mobile life as well.

Strike Three: Vizio isn’t coy about “sharing”, which, in this context also means selling, the information to partners, which is to say, advertisers. The company even boasted it can provide “highly specific viewing behavior data”, most likely thanks to that form of spying. For its part, Vizio actually believes it isn’t doing anything illegal, as the laws that do prohibit selling viewing habits of customers doesn’t cover this use case. Or so Vizio claims.

The one thin silver lining here is that Vizio isn’t the absolute most popular smart TV brand in the market, though it is starting to be more aggressive in its push. These issues, however, might cast a shadow of doubt and distrust on the brand and its products.

VIA: Ars Technica


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