Vizio Claims Smart TVs Spy on You for Your Own Good

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Vizio — a company recently fined by the FTC for spying on customers without their consent — has some thoughts on why Smart TVs spy on customers and how that silent data collection is actually good for you.

The Verge spent some time with Vizio CTO Bill Baxter at CES 2019. According to Baxter, Vizio believes it’s the industry leader in disclosing how tracking is occurring and allowing people to opt out of it. Again, that’s a simply hilarious statement from a company literally found to be tracking people regardless of whether they’d agreed to be tracked. One point he makes, however, is likely true: If companies like Vizio didn’t engage in user tracking and data collection, he said, they’d likely have to charge more for televisions:

So look, it’s not just about data collection. It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.

This is a cutthroat industry. It’s a 6-percent margin industry, right? I mean, you know it’s pretty ruthless. You could say it’s self-inflicted, or you could say there’s a greater strategy going on here, and there is. The greater strategy is I really don’t need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.

He goes on to state that one reason Vizio wants to implement this kind of strategy is so it can bring new features and capabilities to older devices. And that sounds fine, to be sure. But the major problem with these devices is the fact that the behavior of the corporations that build them proves, time and time again, that they cannot and should not be trusted with this information.

The argument that users trade data for lower device prices is only a straightforward tit-for-tat argument if you assume that the data is going to be used appropriately, gathered only when necessary, and then held safely. History has proven that literally none of these assumptions are accurate. Companies buy and sell your data with abandon. Your private information is a resource to be tapped.

Would you buy a TV if you knew it monitored everything you watched and relayed that information directly to the manufacturer? Would you want to buy a phone if you knew the location data AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile gather on you would be sold to data brokers that would literally offer the capability for anyone to track your exact location in real time for a few bucks a day? Maybe you would. But at the very least, you’d have a much more honest idea of what you were actually signing up for if these uses of data were disclosed up-front.

It’s becoming more difficult to buy a high-end TV that isn’t a smart display these days. If you must buy a smart TV, ExtremeTech recommends taking steps to make sure it never connects to a network. There are third-party dongles and devices that can provide all of the features of a smart TV, typically with better support and performance. Granted, there are privacy considerations with these devices as well — the issue never truly goes away — but as a rule, companies directly attempting to monetize your data to bolster their own bottom lines are going to aggressively push to implement features that spy on you more than those that don’t.

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