As everyday tech like TVs, thermostats and lights get smarter, they become easier to use and can do some cool tricks you wouldn't have imagined a decade ago. Unfortunately, as these gadgets become more aware of their surroundings, and who is using them, manufacturers are collecting more data about you.
Usually, this is so that the manufacturer can find out how the product is being used, so it can make improvements. The downside is that manufacturers have a poor history of securing this data, which naturally makes many consumers nervous. Then there are manufacturers that seem to be using this data collection purely to line their own pockets.
That seems to be the case with popular TV manufacturer Vizio. We reported back in July that Vizio uses a system called Inscape to pull 100 billion points of anonymized information from 8 million TV sets a day. It then passes that information to advertisers so they know what people want to see.
Now, ProPublica is reporting that Vizio is going even beyond that. It's selling your "non-personally identifiable information," to advertisers so advertisers can show you targeted ads on the Web, mobile and other platforms. Unfortunately, the law has a different definition of "non-personally identifiable" than you might.
In this case, Vizio is tracking what video and shows you watch and then linking the information it collects to your IP address. While that ties it to your home instead of a particular gadget, it's still a worry. Plus, Vizio doesn't encrypt the IP address when it sells it, so advertisers can see every IP address. Advertisers already have ways of linking other information to IP addresses, so they could have a complete profile of you, even if they don't necessarily have your name and physical address (although they could).
Like Inscape, you can turn this tracking off. It's listed as "Smart Interactivity" and full instructions for finding and disabling it are over at Vizio's site. Still, the fact that it's on by default says a lot about Vizio's goals. It's too bad that this seems to be the direction most manufacturers are going.