Telescreen watch: Vizio adds spyware to its TVs


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Was it only a year ago Boing Boing was all abuzz with the cool new concept, Internet of Things? I had my doubts, just because I don’t want my toaster to be smarter then me, but it’s turning out to have some major drawbacks.

I keep asking - why doesn’t somebody start manufacturing dumb appliances again? Also, dumb cars and PCs with vanilla Linux and no bloatware? More and more people are becoming aware of mass surveillance; I’ll bet the market is growing fast for things that don’t spy on you.


For what it’s worth, I have one of the affected TVs, and the “Smart Interactivity” feature was already set to Off when I checked. I had recently received a firmware update, too, so I would think that would be the time they’d have chosen to silently switch it on.

It’s probably a much smaller market than you’d think. Most people don’t know or care about the issues involved - just look at how few Americans even know who Snowden is. Seeing “smart” on the box is probably appealing to more consumers than “privacy-protecting.” For manufacturers, it’s also got to be really appealing to add this stuff - after all, they’ve just added two new revenue streams: ads and selling people’s data.

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Another revenue stream (In this case) is artificially ageing the TV. All that smart bollocks won’t work 3/5/10 years down the line.

It’s not just the spying potential, which, as @Shuck pointed out is not likely a concern for a lot of people. A “smart” toaster, for example, is going to be more costly to buy and replace, impossible to fix yourself even if you have the basic know-how, and most likely require regular “upgrades” before you can burn your bagels.

“You must update to Maillaird© in order to continue. This update will change the dial light from blue to red. 10 will now be the lowest setting and 1 will be the highest. This update also contains a bug fix. Ants will now be prevented from entering the SmartToastSystem. Cockroaches still come pre-installed. We plan to have this fixed in update With this update your SmartToastSystem will only accept Pop Tarts Mango Quince flavor.”


So set it to play random things when you are not watching.

So far, you’re right.

I have one of the affected TVs, purchased a few months ago, and mine was set to On. (I am the sole user and have never accessed this menu before, so it must have been on straight from the factory.) I have turned it off, and am grateful for this post. I really do just want a dumb screen to display PC and console video/audio.

That said, I have intentionally never given the TV access to my Wi-Fi, which is secured, and on the occasions I’ve searched on other devices, I’ve never seen unsecured Wi-Fi signals in my area. Is there a known risk that my TV would access some unsecured Wi-Fi signal – say, if a new neighbor set up an open router – and proceed to call home and send/receive data?


It’s simple enough to block the TV’s MAC address at the firewall – and this should be standard practice anyway. Periodically check devices that your router or firewall sees, and block anything you don’t recognize. (Or block all and explicitly allow, if that’s easier.) When my TV needs a firmware update (which, in my opinion, it never has needed), temporarily remove the block, then reinstate it.

This’ll work great until Vizio updates its 600-page TOS for its TVs to require always-on internet connectivity. And the marrow of thine firstborn.

I work for a broadcaster and we are already being pitched on both the ad insertion side of this as well as the data monitoring side. One of the big players in this arena is Sorenson. Their product is integrated into most existing Smart TV models and they are working on getting it into more. If you plug your TV into the internet, it will be monitored and used for watching viewing habits per IP as well as to push location and habit tailored advertisements and overlays.

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A cool new concept that implies the death of the general purpose computer.

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Planned obsolescence! It’s win/win/win! Next they’ll sell you a smarter TV. (Assuming you don’t throw this one out before that point for a 4K screen or whatever.)

Waste electricity to baffle spyware? Except they’ll probably be able to figure that out because you’re not muting the commercials, etc. If they were still concerned that was happening, they’d add a video camera to check if anyone was watching (something that’s likely to happen soon anyways).

Unfortunately. I don’t really see that changing until the negative repercussions are blindingly obvious to everyone. At which point it’ll be too late to do anything about it and it’ll be accepted as “just the way things are.”

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