Why yes, your smart television is tracking you, even when you are watching over the air (i.e., with an antenna). Know what’s worse? It tracks your data by IP address and adds it to the other data collected from other devices in your home (computers, tablets, smart phones, etc.) about you and those in your household to determine things like what advertisements you see when you are online. You’re secretly being handled like a cranky diva, my friend.
Want to get the nitty gritty on how this works? The Washington Post article exposing this practice is an interesting, quick read that is part of the Secret Life of Your Data series by Geoffrey Fowler (@GeoffreyFowler). I highly recommend reading the series, especially if you’re behind deadline, because I swear you’ll never sleep again after reading these well-researched articles on the sharp decline of privacy and cybersecurity.
The upshot is, smart television makers were told to stop surreptitiously collecting this information years ago. So what did they do? Made the consumer’s buy-in the default and buried the choice so deep in a rabbit warren of menus that it’s difficult if not darn near impossible to figure out how to opt out.
“We built a better mousetrap,” says Neumeier, now the senior vice president of technology at Inscape, the data division of Vizio. (from You watch TV. Your TV watches back. Washington Post. 18 Sept. 2019. Geoffrey A. Fowler.)
Don’t care if your tv watching data is collected surreptitiously? You should. Privacy and security have never been mutually exclusive, but they are increasingly becoming mutually inclusive. Sharing of data should be transparent and by choice, not a default setting buried deep in setup menu dog pile labeled “Terms & Conditions” (yawn).
How to Stop It
Don’t care about the deets and just want the intrusion to stop? Check out these model-specific instructions for turning the data sharing off from Consumer Reports.
One Last Thought
All this trouble to spy on my television (I use an antenna, which is an impressive move when you live on the side of a mountain), and yet I’m a little disappointed in how meh the accuracy of advertising streamed to me is in terms of what I consume on TV. I watch PBS NewsHour, Washington Week in Review (also PBS), and Dateline…ooh, and of course Blacklist when there are new episodes. And the advertising I see? Clothes, mostly and a lot, which I hate to shop for. So, you know, all I’m saying is perhaps the business model needs some tweaking.