Is Your TV Tracking You? Here’s How to Tell — and Prevent It

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Perhaps you heard that Vizio agreed this week to pay $2.2 million to settle a federal lawsuit, which accused the smart-TV company of tracking its customers without their knowledge.

But you might not have heard the extent of customer information Vizio was collecting and sharing. It was enough to make me want to rip my smart TV — a Vizio — out of the wall. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary, as you can disable a TV’s tracking features if you know which settings to change.

Below, we’ve broken down the steps to disabling tracking technology — formally known as “automated content recognition,” or “ACR” — for several brands of smart TVs.

Just in case you’re wondering whether you should bother, though, consider the extent of what Vizio’s ACR allowed the company to do. Lesley Fair is a senior attorney with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, one of the parties that sued Vizio. She says:

On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. …

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. … Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details — for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.

If you’re unsure whether you have a smart TV, Money Talks News vice president and resident tech guru Dan Schointuch makes it easy to tell: If your TV has web-based services such as Netflix or Amazon Video built into it, then it’s a smart TV.

Vizio

Note that Vizio refers to its ACR technology as “Smart Interactivity.” Here’s what you should know about it:

  • If you have a SmartCast model, ACR “is not currently enabled,” according to Vizio’s website.
  • If you have a VIA model, ACR “has been disabled” as of Feb. 6 — the same day the FTC announced the lawsuit settlement.
  • If you have a VIA Plus model, you can follow the steps on Vizio’s website for turning it off.

Samsung

Consumer Reports advises:

  • On newer smart TV models, click the Settings icon in the main menu, look for Support, then scroll down to Terms & Policies. There are several options, including Viewing Information Services, Voice Recognition Services, and Nuance Voice Recognition and Privacy Notices. You can choose not to accept any of them. Then disable the Internet-based Advertising feature. …
  • On older Samsung smart TVs, the ACR controls are found under the TVs’ Smart Hub menu. Look for the icon for Settings, click on Support, and find the submenu titled Terms & Policy. Choose SyncPlus and Marketing, where there’s an option to disable the feature. Turning off Voice Recognition Services will disable voice control, a feature that sends your voice commands to a third-party vendor for processing.

LG

Consumer Reports advises:

  • On LG’s newer webOS TVs, click on the icon for Settings from the main menu, then scroll down until you see General. Look for the About This TV submenu, and click on User Agreements. There are three options to consider: Viewing Information, Personal Advertising, and Voice Information. You can choose to opt out of all of these features. …
  • [On older LG TVs, go] to Settings, find Options, then open LivePlus, LG’s version of ACR. Once there, you can toggle the feature on and off.

Sony

Wired reports that most Sony smart TVs use Android TV, “which means you’re subject to Google’s data-collection practices.” Sony can also collect audio data, but clearly displays its privacy terms and conditions when you first use a Sony smart TV and allows you to opt out.

What do you make of smart TVs and their tracking technology? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

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