Smart TVs continue to collect user information, but only if the consumer allows it

Photo (c) milindri - Getty Images

Turning off the permission-to-collect is relatively easy, and manufacturers are often willing to help if you get stuck

If you think that Santa might be bringing you a smart TV for the holidays, it might be smart to pay close attention to what private information it could be absorbing and repurposing. Even the FBI says failing to secure smart TVs can have consequences.

A trade-off or a bonanza?

This pure, unadulterated data gold-digging can be good for both the TV manufacturer and the consumer -- the manufacturer makes money off the consumer’s data and the consumer gets a better deal on the TV because it’s giving the manufacturer the right to mine their data.

However, Ben Gilbert at Business Insider says that companies like Vizio don't need to make money from every TV they sell. 

“Smart TVs can be sold at or near cost to consumers because Vizio is able to monetize those TVs through data collection, advertising, and selling direct-to-consumer entertainment (movies, etc.).” Take Roku, for example, where two-thirds of its revenue comes from advertising. That’s thanks, in large part, to the unique data it extracts from users.

What to look for

There’s several hooks that advertisers, agencies, and manufacturers use as reasons for why they should be collecting data. Most often, it’s under the guise of pushing content that consumers are likely to favor. As LG puts it, it collects information to “ensure the sites are relevant to your needs.” 

Another example is Vizio, which got more than a slap-on-the-hand for going too deep into users’ data data. The company is very upfront about sharing your info with “media companies and advertisers to gain insights ... about programming and ad effectiveness.”

Samsung’s privacy policy says it might go as far as collecting voice commands and button clicks. It might also share the data it collects with its sister ad agency Cheil Worldwide, which has a client base that includes Coca-Cola, Starbucks, eBay, Adidas, Absolut, and Chevrolet. However, it’s not known whether Cheil’s clients get to use the same data Samsung collects or not.

One important feature to consider if you’re worried about privacy is the “ACR” (automatic content recognition) option. ACR technology enables automatic monitoring of the content played on a Smart TV. Manufacturers that use ACR include LG, Samsung, and Vizio.

The how-to

While recently setting up a new Sony Bravia TV, ConsumerAffairs found that turning off the privacy pump can be relatively easy and straightforward. Rather than hurrying through the setup and clicking on “agree” every time, we simply didn’t opt-in to letting Sony watch our every move, no matter how they postured the relevance of giving them access to what we watch. And, you know what? Everything still worked as it should.

Typically, all the privacy switches and checkboxes can be found in a “privacy” tab in the TV’s settings. Some manufacturers list those settings under the “personal,” “preferences,” “usage,” “additional settings,” or “advertising” sections of the product. 

If you get stuck, you basically have three options: 

  1. Read. Wade through the user’s manual for the step-by-step. 

  2. Research. You can search online for what things to click and unclick all you want. However, a lot of the information you’ll find is outdated and not in synch with the new TV models. That, in turn, can result in some frustrating trial and error.

  3. Ask for help. Consumers can always make a call or use the manufacturer’s online chat option to find out how to turn off all the data collection switches. Most companies want to keep their nose clean in regards to privacy, and they’ll often walk you through the necessary steps.

Remember, being tracked is the consumer’s prerogative

The bottom line is that the decision to be tracked or not is solely on the consumer. After all the privacy missteps that Big Tech has made in the last couple of years, all the manufacturers are conscientious about letting consumers know they have the right to opt in or opt out. 

In Samsung’s own words, “Your personal information belongs to you. You can ask us to provide details about what we’ve collected, and you can ask us to correct any inaccuracies.”

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