Privacy-minded TV owners aren't completely paranoid: some smart TVs do really keep track of your viewing habits. The Irvine, California-based consumer-electronics company Vizio is getting flak for a feature it calls "Smart Interactivity," which went into effect Oct. 31 and lets Vizio smart TVs keep records of users' viewing habits.
Vizio may share that data with advertisers, sometimes without camouflaging a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address, and advertisers could conceivably then connect those habits to a particular user's other electronic devices.
While you can opt out of Smart Interactivity, Pro Publica notes that smart TVs from Vizio rivals Samsung and LG Electronics only collect data if customers opt in to that service. (That may be the case only in the United States; Samsung and LG smart TVs have been caught snooping on users in Britain.)
Vizio says any data shared with third parties is packaged so that it "does not, on its own, permit direct association with any specific individual," and that, in most cases, it replaces IP addresses with unique hashes before that data is shared with partners.
Third-party advertisers could use the viewing data to deliver highly targeted ads to other devices that share that same hashed IP address, though no evidence exists to suggest that they are actively doing so with Vizio's data. If an IP addresses is not hashed, however, as Vizio implies sometimes occurs, it would be easy for an advertiser or other third part to link the IP address to a real name and physical location.
How to Stop Your Vizio TV from Spying On You
Fortunately, Vizio offers instructions on how to opt out of Smart Interactivity, which we'll reproduce here. On Vizio's VIA TVs, you need to press the Menu button on your TV remote, select Settings and highlight Smart Interactivity. Then, press the Right arrow button to change the Smart Interactivity setting to off, disabling the feature.
If you have a Vizio VIA Plus TV, there's a slightly different process. You can either press the Menu button on your TV's remote or open the Vizio TV's HDTV Settings app. Select System, and then select Reset & Admin. Now, highlight Smart Interactivity and press the Right arrow button to change the Smart Interactivity setting to off, disabling the feature.