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]

Twitter Bug Accidentally Alerted Users When Someone Unfollowed Them

iStock/bigtunaonline
iStock/bigtunaonline

Social media networks may notify you every time your former high school classmate has a birthday, but there's one piece of information most sites choose not to share with users. When someone unfriends or unfollows you, platforms like Facebook and Instagram will save you the pain of knowing about it. This is normally the standard on Twitter, but thanks to a new bug, some Twitter users have received notifications when people unfollowed them, Vice reports.

For several days in June, many Twitter users reported receiving push notifications on their phones every time one their followers removed them from their feed. The notifications didn't clearly reference the awkward situation: The bug told users that someone had “followed them back” when they had actually hit the unfollow button. People eventually caught on to what was really happening.

The bug apparently didn't affect all users, so if you unfollowed someone on Twitter in the past week or so, there's a chance they didn't notice. Though if they really wanted to know, there are third-party apps that show Twitter users who unfollowed them.

According to Fast Company, Twitter has resolved the issue and users no longer risk getting their feelings hurt every time they check their notifications. So feel free to continuing curating the list of people you follow in privacy.

[h/t Vice]

This Amazingly Simple Google Docs Hack Is a Game-Changer

iStock/ardaguldogan
iStock/ardaguldogan

The seconds it takes to manually open a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide on your computer are short compared to the time you spend working in them. But if you're already feeling stressed or tempted to procrastinate, the process of going to Google Drive, selecting New, and opening a blank document can be annoying enough to disrupt your workflow. For people looking to maximize as much of their time as possible, Google introduced a hack late last year that creates a new Doc, Sheet, or Slide in seconds.

According to TechCrunch, you can launch a blank Google Doc in less time than it takes to type out a full web address. If you're already signed into your Google account, simply go to your web browser, type in doc.new (no www. required) and hit Enter to go to your fresh, new document. For Google Slides, do the same for slide.new, and for Sheets, use sheet.new. It doesn't matter if you pluralize the name of the app: Typing doc.new or docs.new will bring you to the same place.

Google owns the .new web domain, which allowed it to create these convenient hacks for its users. If you're a frequent user of Google's applications, you can bookmark the addresses so they pop up in your browser suggestions with just a couple keystrokes.

The new document shortcut is pretty straightforward, but there are several more Google Docs features that make life more convenient for users in unexpected ways, including features for automatically transcribing audio and outlining documents.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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