With the evolution of home and mobile technology also comes the concern of large companies’ abilities to spy on users and gather information without clear consent. In fact, in 2015, it was even found that large companies such as Lenovo, Huawei, and Xiaomi had spyware pre-installed on their devices. The same fate recently came upon Vizio, after it was discovered that their Smart TV monitoring setting was enabled by default. This alone would be bad, as they never gave users a prompt to warn them, but they were also found to be selling the data.
What was Vizio able to track with these settings enabled? A concerning amount of information. They could even track, second by second, whether you are streaming cable, watching a Blu-Ray DVD, or streaming a movie according to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Another very concerning aspect of this monitoring is that Vizio was actually also able to pair this data with your demographic details such as sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, homeownership, and household value. The reason for all of this data collection is so Vizio can later go on to sell the data (paired with demographic information and all) to analytics and advertisement companies. These companies then use this data to target ads towards you. This data acquisition system turns out to have been a key selling point from Vizio when they were purchased by a Chinese company called LeEco for $2 Billion.
However, if you own a Vizio TV, not all hope is lost. You can actually disable all of the tracking from deep within the TV’s confusing menus. After digging through lots of manuals and guides, I discovered that instructions for doing this are on their website. Here they are anyway: Go into Menu → System → Reset & Admin. In Reset & Admin, you’ll see an option called “Smart Interactivity”; you’ll either need to turn that off or dive one menu deeper, into a section called “Viewing Data,” and turn that off. After this is done, you are safe from prying Vizio eyes. It’s funny that they call the menu “Smart Interactivity”. But I guess it would be pretty dumb to call it “Stealing your private data”.
It is a relief to hear that Vizio is the only company that we know of which does an Opt-Out data tracking system versus an Opt-In system. Samsung has an Opt-In service called SyncPlus, however, it might have been enabled during setup when you were impatiently hitting the next button in all of the menus. A guide for turning off SyncPlus can be found here. Some of LG’s older Smart Television sets had a service called LivePlus, however, this service is no longer available on their newer Smart TVs.
So it really does boil down to the fact that Vizio’s tracking “feature” was an Opt-Out system and not Opt-In like Vizio’s competitors. You can sleep soundly now, though since the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and Vizio have come to a $3.7 million settlement which you can read more about here, if you happen to be interested. Vizio Smart TVs must now have consumer consent to collect data. As the technological world evolves, I really hope to see companies doing their best to protect consumer privacy and rights. As Uncle Ben once said, “with great power comes great responsibility”.