Do you have a Vizio 4K or HD smart TV? Here’s how it might be spying on you and how to turn the surveillance off

by on February 8, 2016

Stephan Jukic – February 8, 2016

4K and HD Smart TVs have a lot more in common with modern PCs and laptops, or even smartphones than they do with TVs as we used to know them. Web connectivity, data sharing, internet apps, browsing technology and a pile of other features all serve to make these large home entertainment systems and their smart platforms into a major source of consumer data for advertising and “consumer experience improvement” manipulations.

Thus, it should come as little surprise that not only are their concerns about surveillance of you the consumer through your 4K or HD smart TV but also actual cases where this might be happening.

Vizio is one such particularly notable example of both of the above and though it’s doubtfully not alone in having been noted for sharing TV user data with third party vendors and advertisers, the company has certainly gotten more attention than some in this area.

As originally reported all the way back in late 2015, Vizio has been accused of having a penchant for sharing data about what its viewers watch with advertisers and thus being more vulnerable to data hacking by intruders.

Vizio itself has since claimed to have fixed these vulnerabilities but for those of you who’d like to make sure that your Vizio TV doesn’t open itself up to unwanted digital eyes, there is a quick and fairly easy way to make your particular Vizio smart TV or 4K smart TV model keep its own data handling to itself.

In essence, through the use of a system which Vizio calls “Smart Interactivity” the company’s smart TVs collect information about your viewing habits and then also happen to tell third party advertisers who have a relationship with Vizio about these patterns. This technology is activated in Vizio TVs by default and as a result, pop-up and other ads which coincide with your smart TV-based interests may appear as you use your TV in different ways. What makes all of this even worse is the fact that Vizio’s TVs apparently share this data in a way that associates your home IP address (your unique internet identifier in a sense) with third party players who you don’t know much about.

“Smart Interactivity” in Vizio’s TVs is of course similar to related technologies found in other smart TV manufacturers’ 4K TV models, such as TVs from LG and Samsung smart TV models. However, according to some sources like the tech and digital security site Ars Technica, what Vizio does actually goes beyond the data sharing practiced by these other 4K TV makers.

In theory, thanks to the above and to the IP address linking for each specific home internet address that connects a Vizio TV’s smart features in particular, the company and its partners could technically develop profiles of each of its customers, with their specific viewing habits, interests, age, profession, and even income being included and possibly sold to advertising companies.

Vizio itself has claimed in their privacy policy that:

“Aggregating Information. We aggregate Personal Information and Anonymous Information that we collect, and exchange it (in a form no longer personally identifiable) with advertisers and other partners who are interested in the use and performance of the VIZIO products and services. We share this information so that our partners also may provide you with an optimal user experience and better understand how users access the VIZIO products and services.”

There is also a supplement to the general privacy policy above which deals specifically with Smart Interactivity and data sharing, it can be found here.

However, once again, if Vizio is collecting this data in tandem with collection of specific IP addresses, the overall value of that data to advertisers increases while at the same time, the level of potential privacy violations does too.

instructions for deactivating "Smart Interactivity" in Vizio samrt TVs

instructions for deactivating “Smart Interactivity” in Vizio samrt TVs

Luckily however you can disable this probably unwanted “feature” of Vizio’s 4K and HD smart TVs without also cutting off your TV’s capacity for content and apps connectivity. Here on Vizio’s own website is a step-by-step guide for deactivating the default “On” Smart Interactivity system found in Vizio’s 4K and HD smart TVs.

The steps found on Vizio’s site come with two variations, one for older smart TVs with the company’s VIA TV Interface and one for newer smart TVs (including 4K TVs in the M-Series among others) with the company’s newer VIA Plus TV Interface

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