Smart TVs Are Cheaper Than Ever, and It's Because They're Selling Your Data

iStock.com/97
iStock.com/97

Thanks to plummeting retail prices on televisions, it's possible to walk out of a store with a 55-inch or 65-inch display for under $500. These aren't bare-bones models, either. Smart TVs from manufacturers like Vizio and TCL offer cutting-edge 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability. If you have the right video source from a streaming service or 4K DVD player, the image quality can be staggering.

Depending on the model and manufacturer, some of these budget-friendly televisions achieve their attractive price points by collecting and selling your data.

In a candid interview with the Verge in January 2019, Vizio chief technology officer Bill Baxter illustrated the business model. Baxter explained that the low profit margins of televisions meant that the company was more interested in covering the cost and then seeing revenue from consumers using the television.

"You make a little money here, a little money there," Baxter said. "You sell some movies, you sell some TV shows, you sell some ads, you know. It's not really that different than the Verge website."

Because these televisions are often connected to the internet, they're able to track usage—what kind of content you watch through a built-in streaming app like Roku, your location, and which ads you're paying attention to. Depending on the video service you're using, Vizio can also get a portion of sales from on-demand content like movies.

According to Baxter, Vizio's philosophy is that monetizing hardware in this manner keeps costs down for every consumer, even if they opt out of data collecting. Of course, viewers paying only halfhearted attention to the television's disclaimers during the initial set-up process may not realize the extent of the information they're agreeing to share by default.

Nor has the company always been so transparent. In 2017, Vizio settled a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that alleged they collected data from 10 million sets without the consent of the consumer, including IP addresses. The information was gathered through a feature called Smart Interactivity, which promoted itself as being able to help the consumer find content and customize advertising based on viewing habits. The complaint, filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, was settled for $2.2 million. Vizio admitted no wrongdoing and said that no viewing data was paired with personal information.

Another data collection service, Samba TV, has relationships with manufacturers like Sony, Sharp, TCL, and Phillips. The consumer is urged to enable the software when a television is first plugged in to get content recommendations. If users opt in, Samba TV tracks virtually everything that appears onscreen, learning what shows viewers are watching, and then works with advertisers to target ads to other devices connected to the internet in the home. (A notable exception is Netflix, which has agreements with manufacturers that prohibit third-party tracking on their service.) In 2018, Samba TV said it was collecting information from 13.5 million televisions in the United States.

The moral? If you own a smart TV, it's probably in your best interests to examine the data acquisition policy and opt out through the menu system. If not, be aware that your television is no longer a passive display. It's watching you.

[h/t Business Insider]

Your Smart TV Is Vulnerable to Hackers, According to the FBI

Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images
Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images

By this point, many of us have had the experience of mentioning a product or service out loud during a conversation, only to have an ad for that very thing pop up on a smart device mere moments later. And, although you may have gotten used to the idea of your gadgets keeping tabs on you, you might not realize that your new smart TV’s monitoring capabilities make it extra vulnerable to hackers.

KATV reports that the Portland, Oregon branch of the FBI released guidelines last week as part of its “Tech Tuesday” initiative to warn people about the risk of hackers gaining access to unsecured televisions through the routers. Because smart TVs likely have microphones and even cameras, successful hackers could do anything from petty mischief to serious stalking.

“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI says. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

Before you head back to Best Buy, brandishing your receipt and begging for a refund, there are a number of safety precautions you can take to make yourself less of an easy target for cyberattacks.

The first step is knowing exactly what features your TV has, and understanding how to control them—the FBI recommends doing an internet search with the model number and the words microphone, camera, and privacy.

After that, you should delve right into those security settings. Disable the collection of personal information if you can, and learn how to limit microphone and camera access. If you don’t see an option to shut off the camera, black tape over it does the trick.

And, even if it’s not the most riveting reading material, it’s worth perusing the fine print on your device and streaming services to find out what data they collect, where they store it, and how they use it.

Check out all of the tips here, and then see what other everyday objects might be susceptible to hackers.

[h/t KATV]

Hotel in Japan Is Offering Rooms for $1 Per Night—If You Agree to Livestream Your Stay

DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images
DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images

Many people are happy to document their vacations online without getting paid to do it. Now, as The Washington Post reports, exhibitionists who can't resist low prices are now eligible to book a hotel room in Fukuoka, Japan for just $1 a night. In return, they must agree to livestream their experience.

Tetsuya Inoue, the manager of Asahi Ryokan in Fukuoka, got the idea for the marketing stunt after one of his guests broadcast his stay voluntarily. Inoue figured that if people are already comfortable sharing their private moments in the hotel with the world, he might as well use that to his advantage.

The "One Dollar Hotel" promotion is a way for Inoue to bring attention to the 30-year-old guesthouse, which is owned by his grandmother. For $1—a fee that covers lodging, taxes, and tips—customers have access to a room that normally costs $27 a night. As guests eat, sleep, and get ready for the day, a camera installed in the room livestreams their every move to the hotel's YouTube channel. The only place where they have privacy is in the bathroom. Signs in the room warn guests not to engage in any "lewd acts" and to keep passports and credit cards out of the camera's field of view.

In addition to generating publicity for Asahi Ryokan, Inoue hopes that his YouTube videos will eventually become popular enough to monetize. Five guests have agreed to the deal so far, and after launching in October, the One Dollar Hotel YouTube channel already has close to 15,000 subscribers.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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