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By SecureWorld News Team
Mon | Jan 28, 2019 | 4:17 AM PST

Remember the days when you simply watched your television? Now in 2019 some TVs are also watching you, tracking you, and selling that information to third parties for a profit.

So what do smart TVs track? And do smart TVs sell your data through the company who made them?

Let's take a look at a few of the things we learned by reviewing current privacy statements from Samsung TVs and Vizio TVs, two of the world's most popular television brands. They give us insight into what's happening in the industry as a whole.

First of all, forget about reading one ridiculously long privacy statement. Now TVs that are connected to the internet, so called "smart TVs," come with multiple privacy statements.

That's right, instead of reading one privacy statement, you can now be forced to read three or four privacy statements just to know how you are being tracked, packaged, and sold.

Examples of what smart TVs track

In reading through Samsung's "Smart TV Privacy Supplement," we learned the following is tracked, and this is typical in the industry:

  • Information about content that you have watched, purchased, downloaded, or streamed through Samsung applications on your SmartTV or other devices;

  • Information about applications you have accessed through the SmartTV panels;

  • Information about your clicks on the “Like,” “Dislike,” “Watch Now,” and other buttons on your SmartTV;

  • The query terms you enter into SmartTV search features, including when you search for particular video content; and

  • Other SmartTV usage and device information, including, but not limited to, IP address, information stored in cookies and similar technologies, information that identifies your hardware or software configuration, browser information, and the page(s) you request

In plain English: it tracks almost everything you do with that remote.

And what if you enable voice recognition on your smart Samsung TV? Yes, you are tracked there, too.

"To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some interactive voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service provider (currently, Nuance Communications, Inc.) that converts your interactive voice commands to text and to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you."

Clearly, smart TVs are collecting an incredible amount of data. But what happens to smart TV data that is collected?

We had to go back to the regular privacy policy to find these bullet points. Here is where the information may go:

  • Affiliates: The companies related to Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. by common ownership or control.
  • Business partners: Trusted companies that may provide information about products and services you might like.
  • Service providers: Companies that provide services for or on behalf of Samsung.
  • Law enforcement: When we are required to do so or to protect Samsung and its users.

And remember that business partners and service providers can include marketing and data firms that collect chunks of data on us and put it together for a very clear picture of what we do and when.

VIZIO's television privacy statement

In fact, VIZIO's privacy statement is more clear on exactly how this works.

  • VIZIO’s data partners are sometimes authorized to enhance Viewing Data with household demographic data and other online and offline data (e.g. purchases, location, and other consumer behaviors they have separately collected, including on devices also associated with the same IP Address as the VIZIO products).

Did you catch that part? The "enhanced" information goes to data partners or "aggregators" who already have data on you, say from your wireless phone carrier, and they then grab information from your smart TV to fill in some of your missing puzzle pieces.

It's a bigger and brighter picture of who you are, what you like and how you behave. And that picture is sold over and over for a profit. 

Privacy when using third-party apps of your smart TV

If you access third-party apps on your smart TV, Samsung and Vizio can sell information about your clicks and access to that app, then your data beyond that is in the hands of the app you accessed--so you are tracked there, as well:

  • "Please note that when you watch a video or access applications or content provided by a third-party, that provider may collect or receive information about your SmartTV (e.g., its IP address and device identifiers), the requested transaction (e.g., your request to buy or rent the video), and your use of the application or service. Samsung is not responsible for these providers’ privacy or security practices. You should exercise caution and review the privacy statements applicable to the third-party websites and services you use."

Did you catch that line? "You should exercise caution and review the privacy statements applicable to the third party websites..."

That means after you read your TV privacy statement and the supplemental Smart TV privacy statements you can then move on to the third party privacy statements. It's unlikely you'll read any of them.

Why big, Smart TVs are so cheap

Here's something that may surprise you. The reason that Facebook is free is that your information is worth money. You essentially pay for the service by giving up some privacy.

And now TVs are largely the same way.

VIZIO's Chief Technology Officer was on a podcast recently talking about this very thing:

“The greater strategy is, I really don’t need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost,” he said. “And then I need to make money off those TVs.”

And making money means taking what your smart TV tracks and then selling that smart TV data to someone else.