Popular Smart TV Brands Watch YOU Then Sell the Data to Advertisers

20151109-vizio-1200x630By Jake Anderson

Since 9/11, American citizens have become relatively anesthetized to the growth of the surveillance state. However, the NSA’s civil liberty transgressions sometimes obscure a reality that is becoming increasingly noxious: private industry is watching us just as voraciously as the government. Sometimes they use cameras, but it seems that more often, they are creating data-driven behavioral profiles of us based on everyday consumption in our own homes.

A troubling new report by ProPublica reveals that Vizio Smart TVs track what we view and report that information in a form that allows advertisers to then directly reach us on other devices. This is a bold new step past previous data collection by Samsung and LG Electronics.

The system is called “Smart Interactivity,” and here’s how it works: when you watch a Vizio Smart TV, the company assesses samples of what you’re viewing to note the date, time, content, and channel of programming, as well as your IP address; Vizio partners with data brokers to link your IP address with your age, gender, income and interests; the new “enhanced data” is given to advertisers, who track all devices associated with that IP address. 

Companies like Experian, Tapad, and Neustar use proprietary  “data enrichment” services to analyze certain attributes and factors like wealth and profession. They then tailor that information to deliver consumer profiles linked directly to IP addresses. Though each of these companies denies working with Vizio, it is with the service of “data enrichment” that the popular electronics brand is able to offer advertisers highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale,” which is the pitch Vizio made in an October SEC filing.

Unlike previous data-collecting , Vizio’s “Smart Interactivity” also known as an automatic content recognition system (ACR) is not an opt-in feature. For the consumers of the 10 million Smart TVs on which it automatically turns on, the only way to opt out is to manually turn it off. This may sound like an easy task, but the vast majority of consumers don’t even know the feature exists and may only learn of it upon reading Vizio’s updated privacy policy.

Consumers may also believe they are legally protected from their information being sold to advertisers. However, the Video Privacy Protection Act, according to Vizio, does not apply to its new system, which the company describes thusly:

Non-personal identifiable information may be shared with select partners … to permit these companies to make, for example, better-informed decisions regarding content production, programming and advertising.

On the heels of NSA’s bulk metadata collection program being struck down, it’s hard not to question whether surveillance technology is simply transmogrifying from a defense function of the state to a data-driven profit margin of private industry. With collusion between the two so well documented in reports about the “Deep State,” analysts may consider that the relationship between Silicon Valley and the NSA is more fluid than previously thought. We already knew of the collusion between AT&T and the NSA. Is this just business as usual? Proponents of the deep state theory reply with a resounding ‘yes.’

There is no evidence at this time that Vizio is passing along its information to the NSA or any other government agency, but the ProPublica report presents another troubling instance of a corporation breaching public trust with advanced data collection tactics. Whether Big Brother has outsourced its domestic spying or corporations are just upgrading their metadata monetization efforts, we are being watched, tracked, and profiled more comprehensively than ever before.

Image Credit: DavidSleight/ProPublica

This article (Popular Smart TV Brands Watch YOU Then Sell the Data to Advertisers) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

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3 Comments on "Popular Smart TV Brands Watch YOU Then Sell the Data to Advertisers"

  1. Back in the late 80s I got a postcard from my cable provider. It actually said they are monitoring you and selling your data to third parties. it was very cryptic language and the postcard was separate from the bill and written in very small print on a very small white postcard with no pictures or graphics. I actually thought it was saying that they could observe you in your home but rationalized they meant the programming you watch. Again, the language was very strange, wordy, and the sentences were very vague in that you could interpret them numerous ways. However, IMO it was saying in black and white they were watching people in their homes. I actually carried the card around with me for months and showed it to my friends and asked them what exactly they thought it meant. No one could really tell. Very alien like. As if being a human being and the way we talk/think/etc was something they weren’t exactly mastering.

    This and a bunch of other things that happened to me concerning a cable company in a town I moved to has me convinced that the new overt security state is begun and concentrated in the cable tv industry. I have no doubt about it actually. And this has been going on for a long while, since cable tv was started.

  2. Sold my TV…. will never own another one.

  3. It’s just like in the movie Idiocracy. Plastered with ads.

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