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Vizio makes more money spying on people who buy TVs than TVs themselves (pluralistic.net)
390 points by akaij 75 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 245 comments



RTings, a site that reviews (amongst other things) televisions, maintains a list of fully ad-free models:

https://www.rtings.com/tv/tests/ads-in-smart-tv

(They are the ones with "10" in the ad-free column)

The dominant brand for ad-free models is in fact... Vizio.


Ad-free doesn't necessarily mean they aren't tracking you, right? Viewership info is _still_ valuable, even if it's not being used right on the device.


Yes I suppose that's true. Tracking can at least be defeated by simply not connecting to the internet.

Some TVs with ads actually have ads pre-loaded on them, so not connecting them isn't sufficient to defeat the ads.


This is until they start using 5G or LoRa to make a mesh to get around that.


Amazon's Smarthome stuff offers basically a bluetooth side-channel specifically for this purpose. It's called "Amazon Sidewalk", and they are already using it for Tile trackers, Ring Doorbell stuff (the doorbell even acts as a mesh point for this in some models)


Yep, eventually this technology will be worthwhile for folks with less scale to implement. Maybe Amazon will license access to Sidewalk. I believe Apple does a similar thing with their devices.


Under "Opt-out of Suggested Content" its "No" for the Vizio TVs. Either its generic Ads, or they're watching you to target the Ads.


This is a separate issue-- article is about tv surveillance and these tvs you link only that happen not to show ads "on the TV's smart platform."

I'm going to rankly speculate that every smart tv does surveillance on the user on part of either the manufacturer or some third party that pays the manufacturer for the data. Otherwise why bother putting a damned wifi chip and browser in the thing at all? I'll take my tinfoil hat off if anyone can link me to an extant business model that includes all that smart business yet somehow doesn't leverage it to make money in our modern economy. But even then it had better be no data leakage by design (which, if it's connecting to the internet for whatever purpose I can't possibly see how that would work in practice)-- otherwise one update and you're back to square one.

Additionally, your link doesn't include the few tvs that happen to be good ole' non-smart tvs. Check out feature #9 on my Walmart special:

> USB – USB connects to USB flash drives for playing music and picture. The USB port is also used for updating the display’s firmware.

So good luck with your Smart TV Behavioral Modification Systems that may or may not shoot ads at your head, HN. Meanwhile, I'll be sitting in the privacy of my own home, sipping tea wile deciding which jpeg I'm going to play next.


currently ad free, you mean. I bought my mom a TV that didn't have ads and a year later it had ads and its own wifi network I couldn't disable.

You 'own' the device but you can't control it. It's 'smart' and you're dumb, because you controlling it isn't the goal.


How can someone on HN be unable to "disable" a TV's WiFi network ? Can't you just ban its MAC address from the router or something ?


Its _own_ wifi network, likely a Chromecast network like “Vizio $MODEL.c”


It has its own wifi network it broadcasts - an internal wifi router that makes its own network. There's no option to disable it. You can stop it from connecting to your devices, but you can't stop it from broadcasting. You don't know what information it's collecting as your devices constantly query what wifi networks are around them. Even if the tv has no internet connection it still broadcasts a wifi network.

I imagine the same way google improved their location services by driving around and literally collecting wifi network information, vizio can see where any TV not connected to the internet physically is if they send someone to drive around and look for their own TVs wifi networks.


I still don’t understand. If you never ever connect your creepy TV to the Internet and never give it permission to say connect to your phone, how could it pass on all that collected data?

I have always used “Smart TV” this way and have been at peace thinking I don’t have a problem. Am I missing something here? A Vizio TV can create its own WiFi Network all it wants, but it ain’t connecting to my home Internet. Why Do I have to worry?


Your TV connects with your neighbors tv that has internet, now your tv effectively has internet. Maybe you dismiss this risk because you live in a rural area, but meanwhile the manufacturer of your router (or any device you’ve validly given internet access to) inks a deal with the manufacturer of your tv.


Amazon Sidewalk, public nets such as Spectrum Wifi, maybe even cellular like cars come with. There are so many ways a smart TV could surreptitiously pull a fast one, and those ways are increasing. Maybe even mesh networks consisting of other TVs. Yours might not be connected to your wifi, but maybe your neighbor’s has permission to theirs.


If I have to worry about WiFi war driving, I would have to worry about a lot of things at my home. I agree it’s a concern and I choose to deal with it last.

Mesh with neighbour’s TV network which has access to their internet is more plausible to me and concerning. Wouldn’t this be illegal and a waiting class action law suit? (Using Neighbor’s internet surreptitiously?) and an easy one to spot at that?


you don't have to "worry" about wifi war driving per se - you just have to know that google already does it and likely sells that information to other companies. No need to worry except to know its likely already occurring.

And in terms of legality - you likely give them permission to do whatever they want in the terms and services you agree to on first boot, or install an app on your phone, etc. And you have no control of the TV's wifi - unless you hack the encryption or get direct access to the firmware you might never be able to tell whats going on. That's definitely beyond my capabilities.


How would you spot that one? It would appear to them to be traffic coming from their TV, and you wouldn't see anything on your own net. Unless that's similar to how hotspotting works, where the TTL is different.

Also, isn't wifi sharing how many products work these days, such as various find my phone features and Amazon devices?


A simple Wifi scanner would give you a list of wifi signals around you. So, if a TV is surreptitiously creating a wifi hot spot, it would be on that list and someone would have spotted it by now... I have some digging to do this weekend.


WiFi host networks are frequently queried by all nearby devices to see what access points are available. Collecting device IDs that are scanning is useful information since for a long time and on most devices, the MAC address was not rotated so it acted to identify people and where they go with mobile devices.


All it takes is someone that downloads an app, then the app connects to the TV and sends the data via the smart-phone internet connection. Could be your neighbor or anyone in range. Better get a soldering pen and remove the antenna.


They probably mesh them to neighbours to spy on people that does not setup wifi.


Aha I get it. If it's not connected to any network, there's not much harm in it collecting some data. But I see it'll be a problem for the common people.


I’d like to know how it’s implemented and see if it can be physically disabled, removed or purposefully sabotaged.


Maybe he means it came with a sim card.


Don't connect it to the network, ever, and it can't update.

You took actions that initiated the auto update mechanism (plugging in ethernet, typing in with password) that were the root cause of the issue you experienced.


A device you have already purchased acquiring new “features” is entirely the responsibility of the manufacturer. We’re going to need regulation on this behavior, it’s not solvable through technology.


Half of the Vizio home screen is a carousel promoting third-rate streaming services like Tubi and Crackle. At least it's not ads for prescription arthritis medicine, but it still looks pretty advertisingy.


I think you just have to wait for them to have enough data on their users so that they sell ads to companies with a clear profile of what their users want.

For the same movie, netflix is not showing the same poster for me or my kid. For "the dead don't die", it's Adam Driver for me, Selena Gomez for my kid.


Interesting table. I'm looking for an ad-free OLED TV and I see there are none from the past 3 years.


https://www.cdw.com/product/samsung-678u-series-55-4k-uhd-le...

Here you go, this is a link to more ad-free TV's


That isn't OLED and it's discontinued...


Don’t connect it to the internet, use something like Nvidia Shield pointed at PiHole for streaming all the usual services. Not perfect, but much better than using a smart tv laden with Spyware and shitty apps.


Every TV is ad-free if you don't give it internet access.


Don't they automatically search for any nearby wifi? I remember complaints about that.


Not sure if that was a Vizio thing, but I think Samsung did/does this.


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29219918

> Some TVs with ads actually have ads pre-loaded on them, so not connecting them isn't sufficient to defeat the ads.


This. I factory reset my Vizio a couple months ago because it was crashing a lot and I didn’t bother giving it any Internet access this time around. There are also no other WiFi networks nearby.


or use Pi-hole smartly!


A Pi-Hole can also break your TV interface, like it does with Samsung TVs after the recent updates they expect the ads to load when they don’t things get messy.

It’s pretty much a TV + a set top box these days if you want to avoid ads in day to day use with most brands now.

I think out of the major brands only Sony hasn’t been pushing ads so far at least as far as their premium models go.


This is my solution, although it sometimes feels like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole


I have a 4k Vizio dumb tv. It was the only one I could find that didn't have some laggy android/web OS and it's been solid for 4+ years. Never once connected it to the internet though.


I bought a 4k Vizio P65 dumb TV 4 years ago, and to my surprise, it was upgraded over the air to a smart TV.


Can you please give more detail about what model this was and how the upgrade worked? Did you give it an internet connection? Did it find open wifi on its own? Did it use a cellular antenna?

I'm curious as an owner of a Vizio TV that I think is a dumb TV...


I have the P65-C1. I had it connected to the internet, because of the built-in Chromecast client. So I was imprecise in saying "OTA", because it was just an ordinary update.

Interestingly, the TV came with no remote, because it included a simple Android tablet, instead, which was supposed to be used as a streaming source and to run the remote control app. So in a sense, it was kind of like a smart TV, but with the brains externalized to the tablet. But when they decided to upgrade it to a proper smart TV, they also mailed me a regular remote.

But yeah, I was kind of irritated, given that I specifically bought it to be more of a dumb TV. I also took care to disable the screen scraping data collection.


What’s Rtings’ business model?


New reviews are restricted to paying members and only become freely viewable to everyone, later.


I've had my Vizio TV (P55-F1, 2019 model; a mid range model) for about 2.5 years now. Image/sound quality is great. But the annoyances and overall mediocrity of the OS and its updates [0] made me just disconnect the TV from the internet and fully switch over to using an Apple TV for all consumption rather than using the native Vizio OS.

[0]: The OS is terrible and the remote randomly stops working sometimes. Sometimes the TV would take tens of seconds to turn on, but then other times it was near instant.

Every single update since I've gotten the TV seems to make the TV even slower/more laggy. There was even an update about two years back where the Youtube app's volume was inexplicably an order of magnitude lower than every other input's volume (e.g. a volume of 100/100 on the Youtube app ended up being equivalent to a volume of 10/100 for all other apps/inputs). It took Vizio 1-3 months to fix it.

Unblockable ads on the home screen and genuinely multi-hundred millisecond response times on the app launcher infuriated me.


Just don't bother with it. Disconnect the tv from the internet and get a dedicated streaming device. The apps and OS will almost certainly be better than what's on the TV


yeah I had all kinds of issues casting to the vizio smartcast thing. it's their built in chromecast implementation I guess. I had to routinely power cycle the tv, sometimes by unplugging it.

reset the tv and didn't connect it to wifi. Connected a dedicated chromecast. Works 100x better.


I'm ready to do the same thing with my Vizio. The worst part about these updates is they happen without any regard for what I'm doing.

I'll have Netflix or Hulu open. Next, the TV will update, close my app, and take me to the startup screen advertising something like "We have Apple TV now!". Or, it will update and go to a blank screen which requires me to physically power off the TV because it's stuck. The remote is useless in this case since it clearly doesn't power down, but put it into sleep mode.


Does Vizio actually make the YouTube app? Why is it Vizio's responsibility to fix? I can see YT prioritizing this app's dev time waaaaaay lower than other devices. If the stats don't justify it, no PM at a FAANG is going to let their team work it.


Why does every television need a propietary system with custom apps?


Why does your phone need a proprietary system with custom apps? Not really sure what you're trying to get at though.


Well, good point. That’s why most manufacturers go with Android instead of making their own.


I think most go with Android so they don't have to think about it and can roll out quickly. I'd be willing to guess that everyone wishes they could do what Apple did, but instead just roll out crap hardware with crap software ontop of the OS they didn't make.


This is likely incorrect.

The $57.3 million is for the "Platform+" division. It includes profit from homescreen ads, selling of buttons on remotes, and cuts of streaming revenue. It's likely that only a small fraction of the division's $83 million in revenue comes from tracking and then selling viewing habits.


> It includes profit from homescreen ads, selling of buttons on remotes, and cuts of streaming revenue

> It's likely that only a small fraction of the division's $83 million in revenue comes from tracking and then selling viewing habits.

It's good to have an example of cognitive dissonance now and then.


Parent poster isn't demonstrating that?

Selling of buttons on remotes absolutely does not involve 'tracking and then selling viewing habits'.

The homescreen ads may or may not involve any tracking - I suspect they likely do not - they're billboards, and they involve showing ads to users but not tracking their viewing.

(I have no information on how streaming revenue share is structured, so I won't assert anything about it. I can easily imagine it going either way).


> Selling of buttons on remotes absolutely does not involve 'tracking and then selling viewing habits'.

Yes it certainly does.

1) sell button on remote

2) user presses button

3) sell information about button presses.

> The homescreen ads may or may not involve any tracking - I suspect they likely do not - they're billboards, and they involve showing ads to users but not tracking their viewing.

Oh yeah and the ads on your computer definitely are also only just like billboards.

It's certainly not profitable at all to know who's watching what when selling advertisement space. It's certainly not capable at all of determining specific names/addresses just from an advertisement load.

/s


> > Selling of buttons on remotes absolutely does not involve 'tracking and then selling viewing habits'.

> Yes it certainly does.

> 1) sell button on remote

> 2) user presses button

> 3) sell information about button presses.

I'm not sure whether this is putting the cart before the horse, but it is likely that tracking button presses and other user interactions is providing the necessary data to make the sale of the button in the first place, and/or the revenue from the button is contingent on tracked button presses (ie. CPC or CPA).


> it is likely that tracking button presses and other user interactions is providing the necessary data to make the sale of the button in the first place

Yeah sure. But there's a better solution: don't sell the button. Don't report what buttons were pressed. Don't invade your user's privacy.


> sell information about button presses.

Well that's obviously a different thing isn't it.


>Selling of buttons on remotes absolutely does not involve 'tracking and then selling viewing habits'.

I would wager that they look at how frequently apps are loaded on their TVs in an effort to determine which apps get their own buttons, and what rate to charge those companies for said placement.


I'm curious if projectors collect the same info? We bought several BenQ projectors that have no internet connection. Of course the computer player or Blu-ray player we use with the projectors do have WiFi connections.

For aesthetic reasons we removed the large flat screen TV's from our house. We now use projectors on walls with a skim coat and flat white texture. It blends right into our 1927 house. The projections are around 120 inches and look glorious. In the past week we watched John Ford's "The Searchers" and then "Avatar" in 3D. Both were amazing to see so big, bright, and beautiful. When we are done watching, the projector is put away and our home is not a constant display of gadgetry.

When ever I go into a store that has a wall of TV's they seem to get worse and worse every year with saturation dialed ALL THE WAY and images looking more and more like CG with smoothing and other weird filters. Perhaps i'm just old.


That's cool. I did that when I lived alone in an apartment, and it was awesome.

When I researched the best projector setup, I read that a gray wall may actually be better than white because it can result in darker blacks. I couldn't try it, though, as I was renting at the time. Have you ever experimented with that?


Yes, gray works quite a lot better with a projector than white. But it does also depend a bit on your use case, you would choose a different paint for a very dark room than one with a fair amount of light pollution.

Some people get quite involved with paint formulation, and for a while I played that game, but if I ever need to build a bigger screen I'm just going to buy one. Halfway decent ones aren't very expensive now.


Not sure about gray walls, but I bought a vinyl screen for my projector and it looks infinitely better than the white wall I was using before, especially blacks.

There are other things about the screen that are supposed to improve things (some kind of tiny glass beads on the surface), but also, it's gray.


I suppose you would want a partially reflective surface so that most of the light bounces back toward the audience rather than completely scattering. That scatter would otherwise raise the ambient light of the screen, and therefore make blacks worse. You wouldn't want a mirror like finish either, though, because then any given viewer would only see a narrow beam of the overall image. My guess is that a reflective cone of about 60 degrees would be optimal?

That's probably what the glass beads are doing, reflecting the light and defocusing it in a consistent way. I vaguely recall that the optimal wall paint recommended by the internet was not only gray, but also satin finish.


I rarely shop in person so I can't really say if it's getting worse, but it's certainly always been my experience that other than in dedicated hi-fi/home cinema type shops they dial the settings to the ridiculous maximum and of course boast that it's 1200000000:1 dynamic 360 max HDR+ gen 5 or whatever.


It's usually called "dynamic" mode and it makes me sad when I see it turned on in peoples' homes.


Highly recommend rtings.com to get the best settings for any TV; they do a lot of work to get the most natural look.


The correct headline should be Vizio makes more money by selling ads than selling TV themselves.

We are only a month to 2022. This shouldn't even be a news headline. There are also plenty of other TV brands that does something similar. It is the whole reason why you can buy a 4K 55" TV for a $~450.

And a lot of people knows this. So for the past few years it turns out plenty of people are willing to sell their watching habits for a cheaper TV. Unfortunately TV business in itself is a low margin business. Unless Apple decide to do something about it I dont think there are any company that could change the game much if at all.


> And a lot of people knows this. So for the past few years it turns out plenty of people are willing to sell their watching habits for a cheaper TV.

Because every TV has all the ways it spies on you listed as prominently as the price? And there's a near identical model for sale next to it, without the spying-enabled discounts?

Framing this as consumer choice implies consumers were informed and given a choice, but they were neither.


Perhaps something I actually appreciate about Amazon's devices. At least their Kindles with ads. They give you a choice between seeing ads, and not seeing them, and put a price on it. If ad revenue is a meaningful amount of the price of a new TV, then I'd definitely like the option to buy one with all of it disabled (with a permanent legal guarantee to back it up).


Your point is generally valid, in that the price of selling advertisements and data is factored into the cost of TVs. But, in case you or anyone else despairs of buying a reasonably priced "dumb tv": you can still buy a 55" 4K TV with no spyware and no apps for $450 or less. For example, the Sceptre U558CV-UMC is $400 at that large online retailer from Seattle. I own the 65" version, and it's fantastic.


Okay, so what's the catch? If other manufacturers rely on the spyware and ads to finance the business, which is how they are able to sell such a high spec TV for $450, how is that vendor able to sell such a TV for $400 with no spyware and ads? Not a rhetorical question; I'm actually curious how they make it work.


The problem as I see it is that if you really want a dumb TV, you generally have to settle for an off-brand, or lower quality, smaller, or older. Hisense has a 75 inch option on the rtings list that is rated fairly well, but what do I know about Hisense? Sony has one ad-free TV on the list but it's several years old now. Most of the rest are Vizio, ironically. And why should I trust them not to send out an update that changes the behavior of the TV to include ads?


Do lots of people know this?

TVs get magically cheaper, is anyone asking why? They just buy it.

It's not on the box. It's not on the price sticker.


They could make tube tellies for peanuts given mass production. And I would suspect the same is true for LCDs, and even oleds given time. A rasp pi can be had for under £10. The packaging, manual, and remote becomes the expensive part. Not including r and d, support etc. But a move to open electronics/software could help here.

They have even ripped amps and speakers out of units, so they can monetize soundbars.

I had read that Google subsidized android devices, something like £30 a piece. So understand there is additional value in data sells. Edit: It may not have been android, but nokia's fork of Firefoxos on something like the banana phone.


When I tell people that their TVs are spying on them, they usually either don’t believe me because they think it would be illegal, or are shocked and upset


> So for the past few years it turns out plenty of people are willing to sell their watching habits for a cheaper TV.

The problem is that when it's endemic and not clearly labeled is that paying more may not do any good. Companies are very happy to charge you more to pretend you get something extra.


> It is the whole reason why you can buy a 4K 55" TV for a $~450.

How are you so sure?

For example, if a TV has $15 of profit on the hardware and $30 of profit from ads, then you'd still see ~$450 models if you removed the ads and increased the price.


I didn't know it and i wouldn't have guessed it was worth this much.


After the 9274821th article about yet another company hoovering up data about me to help someone run personalized ads, I am less frightened about the privacy implications than morbidly curious at the mammoth, grotesque waste of it all. I have to ask: how much of the American economy is now based on showing people ads? Is there no limit to how much money and time and effort civilization can sink into this?

Even if ads could control me like a puppet and direct me to make purchases at any time, would the proceeds from that pay for the effort?


Even if I do get a good targeted ad, I’m usually like “oh yeah, I bought that months ago” or “this would have been a good ad for me three years ago at ${PREVIOUS_JOB} where we actually used this service.”

The targeting works, but the timing is abysmal and fails to introduce new products into my thought space at the time I’m making those decisions. In other words, they fail at their raison d'être


I'm told facebook is quite good at getting the timing right. My friend used to sell fancy holidays via facebook ads and they seemed pretty good at figuring when the customers were thinking of booking a holiday. I feel a bit disconnected from the whole ads scene as my ad blockers are so good I really have little idea of what I'm missing! One of my problems with the holiday ads is they tend to push expensive hols with profit margin to spend on facebook ads whereas I tend to book the value for money stuff.


That's not true in the general case and I'm sure you could think of many counterexamples for this.


I've recently ordered this book which I believe deals with the topic of your question: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374538651/subprimeattenti...

Haven't read it yet, looking forwards to it!


I found this article nearly impossible to read, it’s just so angry. It’s accusatory at every moment, it maligns essentially all of the worlds largest technology companies in an introduction before even getting to Vizio (the point of the article, per the title). I often feel this extreme writing style hurts more than it helps. Very difficult to convince people your cause is just with this tack?


It's like having a big family dinner with your crazy uncle Bob who spends the entire meal working themselves up into an angry froth spouting a vast assortment of conspiracy theories.

It's possible that there is some nugget of value in that mess but your eyes have long since rolled so hard that you're worried you've sprained an optic nerve.


I've always thought this line of thinking, while reasonable, was kind of admittedly strange. Just because someone is angry, and perhaps irritating, does not mean they aren't correct. In some ways, you'd expect them someone conveying wide scale injustices to be angry. It's almost counter intuitive to only trust those who can calm themselves. I mean in practical life, I still am a bit leary of overly angry rants-- but this thought occurs to me often.


I'm not sure why you think it's strange. Nobody wants to wade through 90% bullshit to get to 10% useful info when the volume is high.

If the first five things you pay attention to are obviously incorrect, do you keep listening in case there's a useful nugget in there, or do you switch to someone else's conversation which isn't rife with those problems? Because you don't know if what you were listening to was 100% BS, or 90%, or 50%, but you do know it hasn't been useful so far and there are other choices.

Or, put another way, why are you conversing on HN when there's plenty of discussions on Facebook you could be contributing in, and undoubtedly some of them would have useful info? I think the same decision making process applies.


>Nobody wants to wade through 90% bullshit to get to 10% useful info when the volume is high.

No one wants to, and yet it helps in understanding what others' grievances are. In today's polarized world, sometimes you even have to bear reading through what feels as insane rants in order to understand what another portion of society thinks. I may not agree with certain political parties or social causes but I believe it's still useful to understand them. Even if every other sentence is exaggerated rhetoric, somewhere in their diatribe there usually is some hint as to why they feel that way

>Or, put another way, why are you conversing on HN when there's plenty of discussions on Facebook you could be contributing in, and undoubtedly some of them would have useful info?

I do make it a point to visit other platforms. I find different platforms can expose you to views of different groups. HN has a lot of high level tech industry discussion which I appreciate. But there are certain topics the community excels at, and others that leave me wanting. I find discussions on medicine tend not to go very in-depth on here, while on a larger platform like Reddit it's not uncommon to have MDs and researchers to participate. Facebook I can't speak to, I don't really use it because I dislike the platform for ethical reasons


"...plenty of discussions on Facebook you could be contributing in, and undoubtedly some of them would have useful info?"

Not in my experience.


That's GP's point. Facebook is so full of shit that most people will go elsewhere for discussions.


it's not just the angry part. if you say "vizio model xyz phones home such and such information, and here are the logs to prove it", I'll believe you unless I have a specific reason not to trust you as an individual. if you say "the entire TV industry spies on its customers", that's not implausible to me, but I'm going to assume you're just repeating something you've read elsewhere (and I'd rather just read that). it doesn't add any concrete information to my mental model.

I do find that the angry part does correlate pretty strongly with people who can't really back up their sweeping claims or are simply exaggerating.


Sure, that's true, but it's also true that it makes it hard to read and puts off anyone who isn't already 110% in agreement with what you are saying.


I generally put the ownership with the orator to use effective rhetoric to convince people that what they're saying is true.

I have interests in learning new, true things, but I've got options and priorities on what to learn next.


A fanatic is someone who won't change their mind and can't change the subject.


Is it really a conspiracy theory to suggest that Microsoft is spying on you in Edge? Or that Apple puts profits before security? I'm not really seeing the nutjob factor here, but maybe that's because I'm already intimated with the field...


Not at all. Individually they are important discussions to have. The problem is that the thesis here is that "all companies spy on you regardless of how much you pay for their product" when the headline is about Vizio.

Perhaps I'm alone in thinking like this, but if a person tells me they are going to discuss a topic but instead do a bait and switch by trying to roll in a dozen other tangentially-related subjects so they can get me to agree with them about a completely different thesis they should not be surprised if the listener starts to smile, nod, and slowly back away.


To me the article makes perfect sense. They tell what Vizio does and explain why this is so, and why this is even expected behaviour in capitalism. They also list countless other companies that do the same. After all, it's all about incentives... In this case it is money, but it could be paperclips just the same.


The thesis isn't unreasonable and I think could be presented much more persuasively.


There’s nothing remotely like a bait and switch here. The article is simply longer than the headline, which pretty much has to be the case.


There is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance experienced when you read that the companies you frequently patronize (Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple for the majority of the tech world) are doing nefarious things. We would just rather not hear them than deal with that guilt.


Oh please, the only thing more off-putting than screeds is this kind of patronizing psychobabble.


It’s pretty clear that the GP was including themselves in the casual assessment, so I’m curious why that deserves such vitriol.

If you were interested in not being patronizing yourself, you could discuss how to measure sentiment vs behavior, or discuss results if it has been done before. You could possibly suggest an alternative explanation or approach that shows the flaws in what you deem psychobabble.

Is your goal to have insightful and rewarding discussion?


I find the suggestion that the audience of this site is uniquely unreceptive to the article because of the cognitive dissonance of buying things from Apple et al implausible, and I think it's patronizing in the sense that it basically says that the only reason you might not like the article is psychological bias or deficiency. The guilt angle would seem to throw in outright blaming readers who didn't like it. I think the unfocused, screed-like nature of the article, as originally proposed, is a more compelling rationale.


I am not sure I read the same comment as you. I read it as a general observation that people compromise ideals for convenience. For example, I buy things from Amazon, but I also think their continued growth is likely harmful. This functional hypocrisy is common and human. Overcoming a particular case of it is a significant challenge, and I wouldn’t know where to start.


I'd argue that it's more patronizing to promote ignorance of widespread, systemic issues than it is to just casually discuss them.


Two things - First, this article isn't what I'd call "a casual discussion". It's fairly harsh in general. Second, if anything the issue is that many of us aren't ignorant at all. We're deeply aware of the moral and ethical tradeoffs of this industry, and the internet, and modern internal commerce, and energy consumption...

It's not "promoting ignorance" to just be tired and sad and not want every article to make you feel like crap just for living in a capitalist society. I already think about it enough on my own.


Nobody here is hanging you out to dry, it sounds like you're doing exactly what these corporations want you to do, though: embody a persecution complex whenever someone levels a perfectly legitimate complaint about their product. Companies like Tesla and Apple have this down to a science, whenever someone tries to talk about how their business practices are kinda scummy iPhone users and Tesla owners feel the immediate urge to take the bullet. That's not what this is about. The end goal is to undo the damage capitalism did to our minds. It should feel natural to criticize the companies that impact our daily lives, since we interact with them the most. Anything else is a reality distortion field that's gone too far, and I won't criticize anyone for being vulnerable to marketing: that's the whole point of modern advertising anyways.


I get what you're saying, but as someone who spends probably too much time, money, and mental stress avoiding buying from Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Nestle, Walmart, etc. I feel like someone who's second job is just trying to do the bare minimum to feel moral in the modern economy and is still getting hit by "surprise, the company you bought carrots from is literally enslaving people" every couple months.

I'm not really sure what exactly you mean to say in terms of me "taking the bullet". It's not like I think it's my fault that these companies do bad things, but so much of the modern discourse, this article included is about how you should feel bad for having purchased a Vizio TV, or ever consider buying one ever again. The problem is, the more you learn, the more you essentially can't buy anything from anyone you don't deeply personally know without finding out they're terrible.

I criticize corporations plenty. Probably too much in terms of the hours in my day. I pretty much live in a cycle of depression every time I look at my toothpaste or ship something with Fedex. What else am I supposed to do? I kinda need a cellphone to have any amount of social life, but every company that makes them seems implicated in moral crimes. So I own a phone and feel like a garbage human for buying it every single day. It's not really a persecution complex when there's no alternative that isn't reverting to some sort of hermit lifestyle where you consume no media, travel nowhere, and only eat what you can buy from local farmers (that you hope aren't bad people). It doesn't feel healthy for my psyche, but I guess I'm doing something good for the world at large, right? Right...?

Edit: Ultimately, glibness aside, my worry is we've gone too far and "undone the damage capitalism has done" to the point where people are being told they're bad for just trying to be mentally stable in an otherwise crappy world. Like, if you're taking medication to stave off depression, it's not a good time to point out the morality of the company that makes the meds that keep you from killing yourself.

Sure, there's some folks who do too much to take a bullet for a company that doesn't need it, but it's all too easy to extend that to a point where you're condemning people for choices they're making where there's not really a better option that is viable for them. I highly doubt there's a lot of rabid Vizio fans. It's mostly just a lot of people who aren't paid well that want to watch a nice movie to relax after a long day at work and don't have the money to buy something "better". Is it really morally right to make them feel terrible for having done that?


Maybe the better analogy is your friend who somehow has to make everything about how either capitalism or communism is behind everything wrong about the world. It doesn't really matter if they're right or wrong, as some point you just want to talk about how much you like the new episode of Succession or whatever and not have them link everything back into their pet universal theory of the world.

It's often better and more effective to have an article about one single novel thing than to bang a drum about how every single thing in the world is just the same pattern again and again.


Weird comparison to people complaining about very specific entities exhibiting very specific behaviors and performing very specific actions.

Those are general economic concepts that aren't even broadly agreed upon.


It's weird? TFA is literally "look at how capitalism has enabled surveillance capitalism as evidenced by all of these companies." It's "complaining about very specific entities exhibiting very specific behaviors and performing very specific action" and how all of those behaviors and actions are just the result of capitalism, and that Vizio is another data point in how everything is connected to general economic concepts?

Sometimes everything is connected, and sometimes your boss is just a shitty boss, or a company made an unethical decision.


> It doesn't really matter if they're right or wrong,

Do you actually think that it doesn’t matter whether they’re right or wrong? Or do you just say that because in the back of your mind you’re thinking “of course they’re wrong”?


It doesn't matter in the context of how much I want to have that conversation with them in the moment. Having someone take the mention of a news event or unrelated conversation topic and turn it into "have you considered how that relates to a grander philosophical/political topic" changes the tenor of the conversation in a way that's often uncalled for. Even if I agree with them.

I mostly agree with this article's points, but I tire of having every article about a company doing a nefarious thing also including a sizable discussion about how it's a pattern. I already see the pattern. I've read articles about how MSFT and Facebook and co. have been doing this. I clicked on this article because I'm curious about the new news that the title promises about something I didn't know before.


> It's like having a big family dinner with your crazy uncle Bob who spends the entire meal working themselves up into an angry froth spouting a vast assortment of conspiracy theories.

Is it, though? To me, this is a rather absurd equivalence.

There's a significant amount of buildup before the "Vizio" bit, but it's presented in a structured format, helps establish context about the "issue", and is backed by credible references at every step. A time-constrained reader might not find this to be the most friendly writeup, but that's a separate discussion about the authour's writing style, which has no relation to the analogy you presented.


I wouldn't consider this “extreme writing style”, author define what this so-called “ad-economy” then they get into, every one tries to show that they aren't part of it, but they are.

Then there is the main point of the article, which is Vizio doesn't care about being clean and undercutting competition.

A good chuck of Vizio's customer knows what they are buying, unlike companies like Samsung; charging premium price, “caring” about their customers but still involving in the same practices as Vizio.

And the author gets the point across, so this is a decent article.


I don't own a "smart TV." If I did, I would have two options to secure it.

I could keep it disconnected from my home network, except perhaps occasionally to update the firmware. Otherwise, all network content would come from a device in which I could place some level of trust.

Alternately, I could put it behind a Gargoyle router set to push all content through Tor. That would render some network content inaccessible, and Vizio itself might block Tor exit nodes.

Each of these choices introduces inconvenience and reduces function, but right now I would not trust my activity to Vizio, after seeing this financial reporting.


Updating the firmware is the reason you never connect it to the network!

If the firmware from the factory doesn't work, return it. If it does, never, ever connect it to a network, because it may stop working, start spying, or show ads.


Kinda have no choice these days. Have a brand new house and want a 65 inch 4k OLED panel? Welp you're getting a smart tv. I found the Sony Bravia line to be the "cleanest" firmware. It's Android so you can do quite a lot to hack it to your advantage.


Down vote all you want but when your wife asks you why you don't have a TV in your brand new house you're gonna cave like a deck of cards in a hurricane.


I upvoted, sorry for the adverse responses.


Isn't that "little inconvenience" the money you are saving going with Vizio?

You get an excellent display for the price, use it as a display only and for updates thumb drive is your best friend.


Well, not really, since the better TVs are also smart TVs.


I dont get that impression at all. It was a clear easy to read article, setting the context doesnt or explaining the general environment doesnt reduce the credibility of whats said in the article at.. I couldnt see anything that sounds conspiritorial or unhinged. Now if I was cynical, Id say that would be the sort of thing a person representing the surveillance marketing industry would say to smear the author. Cory Doctorow is a well known advocate for privacy on the internet, so he may have made a lot of enemies in that industry, who may try to attack his credibility whenever and wherever they can. I found the article to be quite illuminating, especially about vizio and the lack of permission to monitor your activities.


People should get off their computers and read some European literature again. This is not "angry", just a colorful style.

What is frightening is the anger (i.e., emotion) policing that people programmed by big tech engage in.


I like hyperbolic feisty writing sometimes just as I like really spicy food sometimes.

Some people never like really spicy food, but that doesn’t mean restaurants shouldn’t serve it.


I do, too, but Cory Doctorow usually brings more craft to the table than what's evident here. This reads more like an angsty high-school dropout's application to join an anarchist commune.

He's not wrong, but then, neither was Stallman.


Cory Doctorow is a self-identified privacy activist. Not proponent, not advocate, activist. If you don't think there's room for activism in this space then his writing is not for you. But he has had a wildly successful career and has done more for privacy and digital freedom than most of us will come close to. I find it a bit rich that a random commenter tells Cory Doctorow that his writing style "hurts more than it helps" considering his success thus far.

If you want something a bit less spicy there's no end of press releases from huge tech companies for you to read.


> I find it a bit rich that a random commenter tells Cory Doctorow that his writing style "hurts more than it helps"

A Microsoft employee, under an article that states unpleasant facts in the first few paragraphs about their employer.

It is natural for the author of the article to be accusatory, when there is a documented trail of illegal actions and repeated cases of customer exploitation from all these companies.


hah, he is a microsoft employee, and one who posts MS press releases to HN apparently. Not the hugest fan of submission snooping but that adds some context, doesn't it?


Cory Doctorow writes polemics. Not everyone likes polemics.


You can't convince people anymore. All that's left is resignation, anger, and used screens from the oughts.


Welcome to Cory Doctorow. Enjoy your stay... or don't.

I don't find his style of writing persuasive, either, to the point where I believe that it isn't meant to be.


You can't decide whether something is credible by looking for a tone of even-handedness. It's a misleading signal that rules out the possibility that all of the facts are on one side or another, and people who are trying to fool you will always adopt a tone of even-handedness.


We should drop “tech” from tech company altogether at this point. No reason other companies, like Walmart, can’t be blamed for the same things.

Even a little cottage industry player for Apple or Intel is just grifting on large scale grift of agency and planet destruction; one shared reality makes it kind of hard to hide the whole economy is thoughtless dedication to death cult behavior.

So much pointless taxonomy is generated about our society. Free speech is great but like with infinitely big little numbers, it can just meander forever, as our political system is showing us.


It's a pissy rant that goes way off topic, but none of it is wrong.


The original source for that part of the linked article is https://www.theverge.com/2021/11/10/22773073/vizio-acr-adver...

Numbers come from Vizio's reporting. Basically profits of 25 million on TVs and 50+ million on advertising


Apparently being sued years ago didn't teach them anything.

https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/06/vizio-settles-for-2-2-mill...

They also violated the GPL in their products.

https://sfconservancy.org/copyleft-compliance/vizio.html


I bought a Vizio TV knowing this... But it lives it's life without any internet access at all courtesy of my firewall.

And this isn't limited to Vizio at all, a lot of new Samsung's have a higher price AND ads on it's home screen.


> it lives it's life without any internet access at all courtesy of my firewall

TVs now and in the future come with cell radios too. No need to worry about a pesky customer's firewall getting in the way of profits!


That keeps being mentioned but there hasn't been been a solid example. And I think it'll be a while before the lower end TVs at Costco have that, especially with our cell costs in Canada.

And I'm sure there will be an antenna to unplug, SOC that can be wrapped in a faraday cage, etc.


How does one disable/block something like this?

What legislation can we introduce to ensure that we own a device after paying for it?

Where “ownership” also means disabling nonessential functionality of our choice?


> How does one disable/block something like this?

Watch this video: https://youtu.be/urglg3WimHA


> What legislation can we introduce to ensure that we own a device after paying for it?

Right-to-repair legislation should be adopted to include something similar to the GDPR's anti-coupling rules so this can be verified at a deeper technical level; the TV manufacturer should be forced to make it work even if you disconnect all modems, network cards, etc.

The GDPR alone is sufficient for legal protection, the TV manufacturer can't stop you from using the TV just because you refuse consent for data processing - but not protection against bugs, bad actors, or companies operating outside Europe. Anything impacting hardware is more likely to improve conditions everywhere, even if only enforced somewhere.


Open it up and remove the card/chip.


That's not feasible right now, and certainly not in the future.


Not feasible for the average person, but it was very easy to do for my LG TV.


Could those cell radios be used for free internet?


Many devices like these use cellular chips these days to get around that, and to make installation and setup easier


Any example of this you can name?

Not doubting you, I just never heard of it before. So it would be something to keep in mind.


Good question. I’ve read it so many times and now I can’t find a reliable reference. I hope I haven’t posted something untrue


Why have it on the network at all?


I unblock it every once in a while for firmware updates. And I think it would prompt on startup if it wasn't connected to wifi.


You can firmware update over USB. My Vizio never complains about not having network connectivity.


Is it that difficult to build an open source Visio firmware that strips all the ads and has it operating like consumers want?

Seems fair play if they're already ignoring open source licenses in the first place.

I'd look into it but I don't have a Vizio box.

Edit: seems like this is a place to start looking: https://github.com/spartan263/vizio_oss


I would look into removing the "computer" that is doing the spying, and driving the panel itself directly (eg from an Apple TV, Raspberry Pi, whatever you consider trustworthy). The panels usually use eDP, MIPI/DSI or (in case of older laptops) LVDS internally.

I've seen it done - a friend swapped the screens on two completely different laptops - one did work, and well, one didn't ;) but 50% success rate for a random guy with a screwdriver is not bad. I wonder what would happen if we could identify a particular cheap, mass-produced, high-quality screen / panel that'd be easy to DIY.


I just removed the WiFi card from my TV.


I work in the advertising industry (media buy side) and we buy the feed from VideoAmp (Vizio) to determine linear TV spot reach better than Nielsen.

We only buy for our clients and get a feed of only their placements, but essentially VideoAmp knows how many Vizio TV’s are online in every zip code and from that can with a fairly high confidence interval give a statistical accurate determination of what played on TV.

Most media includes ACR (auto content recognition) fingerprints for this purpose, either through VideoAmp or Comscore (comcast set top boxes).

The whole game for them is for you to get your “Smart TV” online and they entice with apps and now tons of shovelware-esq free TV channels like PlutoTV.


Most people I know have either a Roku or an Amazon Fire connected to their TV. I assume Vizio's spying capability is nil if it's set up this way, with the TV wifi off.

I wonder how common that sort of set up is.


I've seen SmartTVs pop up with "Watch your stream on Service X" after ID'ing the content (presumably from fingerprinting the image or sound) coming in from HDMI. A smart TV I had kept offline for a few years to prevent this that someone "helpfully" attached to WiFi.


That setup does eliminate Vizio’s spying ability, but my understanding is that Amazon and Roku do essentially the same thing. On Roku at least, you can turn on settings like “limit ad tracking” to mitigate this somewhat.


Or setup something like a pihole. My pihole has blocked my Roku from calling home over 20,000 times in the past 24 hours.


Don't believe that using an external device helps -- the TV can detect what content is being played by sampling the video stream and creating a fingerprint. They can compare to live tv streams to detect channels, and static video files to detect movies/tv shows -- even the menus and cutscenes in video games can be detected.

Also note that disabling WiFi isn't always helpful - some devices expose ethernet over HDMI which the TV will use to phone home.


> some devices expose ethernet over HDMI

wait, is this really a thing? I've heard about hdmi over ethernet, but ethernet over hdmi? also it seems it would be a lot trouble to bridge the wifi connection and dhcp to this ethernet over hdmi interface, why should they do it?



Using Ethernet to communicate between the connected devices doesn't mean that either device is acting as a router to send packets beyond that direct link.


TIL! doesn't seem it really gained any popularity though to be really a security concern


When Shazam was popular, I believe they embedded digital fingerprints in the non-audible ranges of the audio stream. That allowed phone apps to quickly label content.

I suspect a similar thing happens with video content.


Source? I couldn't find information on any mainstream TV brands using ethernet over HDMI. Not configuring wifi and using an external device seems like it would do the trick.


time for hdmi condoms, I guess.


I've never plugged any TV into a network, except as absolutely necessary for application development (my company used to do those). I fear this might no longer be enough in some possible future - if enough people don't connect their TVs, I could imagine manufacturers equipping the TVs with always-on LTE/5G modems. (You don't need airplane mode if you can't realistically use it on an airplane anyway.)


Then Roku and Amazon are the ones doing the data collection. There's no escaping it.


This. If you have Roku device, you must use something like PiHole. It is the noisiest device on my network, constantly phoning home, down to each interaction with the physical remote.

Amazon Firestick is the same, although there's potential for more control since it's running Android.

Amazon's Ad business is one of its fastest growing segments.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/29/amazons-ads-business-nears-7...


Well you can get an Apple TV. They make a profit on the hardware, on the TV App Store, and on their services, so they have less incentive to spy when you're not using their TV app.


I thought this is well-known, read about it quite some time ago. Something about suspiciously low prices of their products in age of surveillance. Same vein as ie Xiaomi or Huawei in cell phones.


https://investors.vizio.com/news/news-details/2021/VIZIO-HOL...

Here it direct from the VIZIO CEO William Wang in an address to shareholders.


So are there any TV firmware hacking communities that help owners secure their TVs?


https://github.com/RootMyTV/RootMyTV.github.io shows the code, that rootmy.tv uses to root some recent LG WebOS TVs.


Russia and China


Hey you reached out to me on a previous comment but your profile doesn’t have any contact info! Update your profile so I can contact you or feel free to hit me up by email!


I’d highly recommend a dumb tv. From a previous HN link: https://helpatmyhome.com/best-non-smart-tv/


Just so people don't get confused from your link - all the insignia TVs without 'smart' features are 1080p. Every insignia panel I see at bestbuy with 4k resolution is a 'fire tv edition'. You can't get a modern dumb tv with a good panel from them.


Good clarification. Thanks!


I wonder how much demand there would be for a service that "dumbs" a smart TV by replacing its main board with a "universal" one that still has media capabilities, but no other intrusiveness:

http://web.archive.org/web/20190511065920/http://redlightgre...


My Roku tv can work without internet, I just need to plug some hdmi device.

And for limiting ads when my tv's connected to the tubes, I have a pihole.

Now Scribe.logs.roku.com is the most blocked address on my pihole.


You can just plug in an apple tv. Problem solved


Vizio tracks set top devices like the Apple TV as well. They do this through Inscape.tv - which basically tracks a pixel in the corner to fingerprint what you are watching, they record this real time along with your location, wifi info, etc. and create advertising audiences or sell the data in "anonymized" form.

This is always running whether you're using an app, watching antenna TV, or using a third party device. The only way to prevent it is DNS blocking with something like the pihole. And that's if they allow you to change the DNS lookup address.


Why would you connect the TV to the internet if you have Apple TV? Vizio can't send any data if it's not connected to the internet.


Interacting with a TV menu seems so alien to me. They all come with HDMI CEC, you never need to touch the TV remote. Apple TV, the IPTV boxes that pirate channels, Chome sticks and fire sticks, even cable and satellite set top boxes. It makes almost no difference to anyone unless TV manufacturers start popping up ads randomly while you are watching tv.


Years ago I had an opportunity to work at a company, that would do just that - help TV manufacturers and advertisers figure out what you are watching on your Smart TV. I passed on that opportunity, I wish I could say because of my high morals, but alas it’s because something better came along. I did a little bit of digging and discovered that before this advanced tech, the main player in getting this kind of data was Nielsen. They’d install a device in your home to collect such data. It seemed ridiculous to me that someone would agree to install a device with a sole purpose of feeding data to 3rd party. Some time later I received a survey from Nielsen with few bucks attached asking to complete a survey. First, I dismissed it, then after a second thought I actually completed with real info(it was anonymized). At that time privacy awareness was picking up and I realized that their approach was far more honest, as participants weren’t implicitly opted in, but made their choice to participate.


"As Richard Lawler writes for The Verge, the division that handles ads and surveillance booked $57.3 million in profits, while the hardware division's profits were $25.6 million."

I am curious how the accounting works on this, they could not make any profit on the surveillance without selling the TV's, but none of the TV cost is recorded as an expense for the surveillance numbers.


The source link should be https://www.theverge.com/2021/11/10/22773073/vizio-acr-adver...

The rest is Cory Doctorow’s useless pontification, and an anchor link that doesn’t work.


I realized a while back that a hidden factor behind the rise of the "you are the product" model could be inequality. There may not be enough purchasing power remaining in the middle class to sustain honest straightforward business models, causing businesses that mostly market to the middle class to look elsewhere.

In particular they are looking at ways to get more money from corporations, wealthy individuals, and governments, all of whom are totally flush with cash. Thus we have surveillance capitalism, which is about marketing the customer as the product to the people who actually have money.

I realized this as my own income has increased a bit in the last decade, and I'm finding myself perfectly willing to look up-market for products that among other things have stronger security and privacy guarantees. In many cases this means buying "business grade" networking gear, flat panel monitors as TVs, DIY home security surveillance (Blue Iris + business grade cams), etc., and all those things cost a lot more up front. Then I realized I was buying privacy, and that privacy is now a privilege for the upper middle class and above.

The solution to surveillance capitalism may be recapitalization of the middle class more than any techno-fix or even specific regulation of surveillance practices. The latter I think will fail for the same reason that much of the GDPR is empty: the legislators do not understand the tech well enough, and there's too much surface area anyway and thus too many ways to work around the law.


I'd say it's more likely that the adblock model will persist into other forms (proxies, anonymizers, etc), and you'll see a rehash of the early 2000s Tivo lawsuits in which someone like Vizio claims that it is unlawful to stop the camera on the TV from surveilling your living room.


But advertisers won't pay us nearly as much if we can't verify how many people in your household are actually viewing the ads! /s


yes, that's a concrete instance of why increasing concentration of power and wealth is bad for society as a whole. now consider that there are millions of these little mechanisms working against social cohesion and our current malaise really comes into focus.

as a result, i really think we should be tying fiscal, tax, and monetary policy to median income (and the like) rather than gdp (and the like). this would wholly combat the hollowing out of the middle class, rather than piecemeal policies that tend to be inadequate and circumvented.


The same can be said for samsung -- https://www.samsung.com/us/business/samsungads/

This is where the iot, the metaverse and other tech buzzwords converge: advertising. I guess.

EDIT:

On the subject: I had to look very carefully, but I was able to buy a TV from OK (https://www.ok-online.com/en/#televisions) with no software besides signal decoding. It's still got hdmi inputs so maybe i'll hook a smarter device in the future.


Timeout, did anyone consider that services would indeed naturally be more profitable, on net, than making and selling hardware? Look at gross revenues: most of the company's SALES are from selling TVs!


Get a 30" monitor and a multimedia PC like a thinkcentre, nuc, dell micro whatever and absolve yourself of the garbage that is present-day consumer electronics.


> Apple has a tactical commitment to your privacy, not a moral one. When it comes down to guarding your privacy or losing access to Chinese markets and manufacturing, your privacy is jettisoned without a second thought.

I keep telling Tim Cook that he (and Apple) needs to take a stand for privacy by stopping manufacturing and selling iPhones in China, but he never does. I wonder why not?


> The idea that there is virtue in paying because it incentivizes better corporate ethics is absurd on its face.

This swings too far. Yes, you can for a product and still be a product. Selling a product doesn't necessarily incentivized good privacy behavior. But using ads _almost definitely_ incentives poor privacy behavior.

So you just have to be careful, but on the net paid products are probably more aligned with privacy


Would a PiHole help here? If yes, again a good reason why every household should have such a DNS blocking device in their local network


a (full-featured) firewall is much better, especially if it can consume popular blocklists. piholes can't deal with hard-coded IPs or an integrated dns server that bypasses the pihole.


Any recommendations on this front?

I've been dreading the day that I'll have to deal with apps ignoring the pihole and using their own DNS servers, especially via https or TLS.


yes, google and the like reportedly already do this, so pihole bypassing is already here.

i bought a pepwave surf soho[0] a few years back, largely because it had a few other features (multi-homing, multi-wlan, robust vlan'ing, etc.) that i wanted due to my peculiar circumstances. it has limited blocklist support however, but does allow manual blocklist curation of arbitrary length, including cidr-formatted IP ranges. the main downside of this router is that it's 100mbps (actually ~120mbps)[1], but that's a limit i come close to very rarely in my day-to-day.

as with smart tv's, it's frustrating how few good router options there are.

[0]: https://www.peplink.com/products/pepwave-surf-soho/ [1]: note that this is sustained throughput, the ports are 1gbps. most consumer routers struggle to reach even this sustained rate.


Yep ever since the smart tv became a thing, every tv company is focusing on collecting and selling data. One thing I ever do is give Wi-Fi access to tvs.

That is why when you sign up for comcast they give you a free set top box absolutely free on top of a free peacock subscription. There is money on the back end of that to be made.


Good, cheaper displays for Pi with Kodi.


This is why I don’t connect my TVs to WiFi. I have NVidia Shields and Chromecasts on all my TVs when I want to run apps. Sure, Google spies on me too, but they probably already know everything they would learn from what I watch.


I'm looking forward to the day where I can get a 80 inch smart-tv for free because it's financed with ads and in app purchases. Then I will disable the ads and use it as a dumb-tv behind my receiver.


> Then I will disable the ads...

No you won't, because there will be no switch for that and it will include a 5G chip and therefore connect itself to the internet whether or not you want it to. Can't get online for 30 days? Sorry, you violated the TOS that you agreed to without reading and now your free TV will only play nyan cat on a loop.


This is painfully reminiscent of the Black Mirror episode “ Fifteen Million Merits”, in which at one moment the main character has to watch odious ad, be he does not have enough “money” to skip it.

Ubiquitous 5G, xfinity public access points, Amazon Echo networks will make it absolutely possible.


I was surprised there was no mention of Windows Telemetry and the myriad dark patterns like forced updates introduced in Windows 10. That was the end of the road for me with Microsoft.


> In other words, they spy on you because they can get away with it, because the state permits them. We don't have a federal privacy law with a private right of action, we don't have statutory limits on terms of service. Even where you do have some rights, we let companies take them away with "binding arbitration" waivers that confiscate your right to sue them and join class actions.

My fellow Americans, I am an expatriate who lives in the EU, and so I come under GDPR protections. It gives me quite some piece of mind to live where the State is thinking about and acting on these issues, even if imperfectly.

You, too, could have that piece of mind. There is a clear road from this rather dystopian reality, where a company can use and abuse your data at will, to solid protections with teeth. The first step is to believe it's possible and desirable.


In similar shoes to yours - there has got to be a way we American techies living in the EU can make the most of GDPR for the sake of the folks back home.


That's why I use Chromecast. It's just enabling Google to "make the rubble bounce" in the ruins of my privacy.


Someone actually trusts MS and Apple? Their reputation doesn't exactly instill any trust.


This was a fun reading with useful information, but I'm not at all impressed by the "capitalism is the root problem" tone behind the article. Yes, our society could do a better job with educating the public in terms of their privacy options, but capitalism isn't a system that rewards greed above all else. It's a system that transparently reflects the motivation of our population at large.

You can scoff at all these companies today that are going carbon neutral as just "following the money" or whatever, but that's the entire point of capitalism. If something matters to most of us deeply, then we'll vote with our wallets. Eg. If most of us were so sick of how our mobile phones are apying on us, companies like Purism would be raking in billions. The truth is that most of us would rather have fancy cameras with fun case options. Capitalism isn't forcing our hands, we are the ones making choices - capitalism just reflects it.


I love the article despite the partisan political bickering on the tail end. There's more common ground available on these issues from Trump's right wing supporters than what might appear so at first. There's an artfully constructed corporate smokescreen of fear propaganda intended to make those common interests unpursuable. It makes us mutual boogeymen and causes us to intellectually inbreed - liberals and conservatives are not healthy ideologically without good-faith interchange.


This is why smart tvs are cheap. Is that not common knowledge?


Yep, I worked directly in ad tech with them. Honestly, I thought it was great. We get better and better hardware available for cheaper and you can always pay more for a different brand and not have ads.


The problem there is that it’s not always obvious ahead of time what does and doesn’t have ads, and that on occasion manufacturers decide to ad advertisements after the fact. Additionally, many people are unaware of the nature of the data being gathered about them, so they’re not actually making an informed decision here.


I certainly agree. My gold standard is the way Amazon sells their Fire tablets. You can explicitly choose the ad or adfree version (which implicitly informs you about the aggregate life time revenue on the ads - about $20).


> you can always pay more for a different brand and not have ads.

Which brand would that be? Samsung, LG and Sony all have ads in their major product lines.


I agree, it's becoming near impossible to avoid.

And don't say "but commercial models!". They are missing a lot of features like multiple HDMI inputs and such, and I wouldn't put it past these companies to start adding crap eventually to commercial models too. The cost difference is also significantly higher than the amount of money they make from your via ads & surveillance because it comes with a bunch of commercial support features we don't want to pay for because we will never use it.


Even if you take the price difference out of the running just for a minute, I don't think the feature set exists in commercial models. What I want is a 4k hdr tv with 4 hdmi inputs, and at least one of those inputs should support ARC, and it should support a coaxial aerial connection. What tv can I buy with those features that doesn't spy on me, even at an enormous cost?


Yeah, we’ve just entered the world where you will get shown ads if you don’t pay more. There will always be some top price point that has an ad-free experience available because the Koch brothers won’t stand for ads.

Are the ads only on the versions that cost $99, or are they on the $500 and $1000 models? Did the hardware significantly change for the price point, or did the ad-free price point rise?


> There will always be some top price point that has an ad-free experience available because the Koch brothers won’t stand for ads.

I'm not sure that's true. I've seen a lot of very rich people far more tolerant of ads than I am. Maybe because for them the problem is more "what interesting thing is there to buy" than "what should I buy with limited funds"


And the only difference between those models is the software most likely. Jailbreaking TVs when?


Exactly, it’s a form of rent-seeking on the object you buy. Pay off your expected lifetime value up front at some discount, or suffer ads as you go.


Will they function if you just cut off their internet?


Anyone who uses the terms "spying" and "surveillance" to characterize this business model is being misleading in order to push an agenda.

These terms imply some kind of personal connection. The police will put a suspect under "surveillance". Someone might "spy" on their spouse to see if they're cheating.

These are the sorts of scenarios that these terms call to mind. These imply a deliberate and focused invasion of privacy by another person who is specifically looking to uncover and reveal some information that you want to keep secret, in order to use it against your interests.

This really has nothing to do with a computer system automatically collecting data on what TV shows you're watching and the vendor reselling this information in aggregate from millions of users (or, just using it to allow some other vendor to automatically and impersonally select an ad to show you, along with millions of other users in the same algorithmic category).

It's a false equivalency intended to manipulate your emotions into fearing a harm that does not exist. The reason they have to resort to this sort of technique is that they can't point to any actual harm from this practice that ordinary people would care about, so emotionally manipulative trickery is their only option.


And someone might "spy" on a whistleblower that leaked an incriminating video, by issuing a warrant for the media fingerprint [1], and finding which TV was used to view the leaked footage. Google doesn't "spy" on you either, by your ridiculously narrow definition, and yet their data sends people to jail [2].

Or a personality/political profile could be built on a person from the shows they watch.

Or your social score could be reduced if you watch too many subversive shows. Oh but that's in China, and could never ever happen here, so no worries about building all the infrastructure to enable it. Except if you view terrorist content, then the UK feels justified in jailing you for 10-15 years [3]. But hey I don't think there's precedent yet for using smart TV fingerprinting for that, so why worry?

Lets give up our autonomy and privacy one tiny slice at a time. And when there is nothing left, you can point to each individual slice and explain to us how losing that one was totally insignificant and non-nefarious.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_video_fingerprinting

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/16/geofence-war...

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41479620.amp


The actual harm? If you steal a dollar from everyone what's the harm, it's just a dollar? Except now you have 7 billion dollars and you can do a bunch of bullshit with it. Except in this case companies are stealing personal agency and using it to create reality.

Not only that but that cache of power, it's not available to you but it's probably available to rich people and governments, further exacerbating power divides. The power of information is insidious and grows as you gain more of it.


> Except in this case companies are stealing personal agency and using it to create reality.

What does this mean?


By understanding behaviors and patterns on a large scale you can become better at manipulating on a large scale. In giving up privacy you allow yourself to be more effectively manipulated (giving up your agency) and the entities that understand the broader patterns can now use those patterns for to create large structures in our world (creating reality).


> These terms imply some kind of personal connection. The police will put a suspect under "surveillance". Someone might "spy" on their spouse to see if they're cheating.

The thing is, with "dragnet warrants" (see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/16/geofence-war...) it is incredibly easy for your data to end up subpoena'd by the police. Secret services may not even need that and simply take all the data they want. And at that time, your TV, phone or other device has effectively become an espionage device.

This is why the European GDPR focuses so hard on data minimization: data that doesn't even get collected or stored cannot be abused by criminals and the government.


Threats to civil liberties only ever come a few dollars at a time.


Well in Sweden recording the audio, or intercepting data, is a crime that could land you up to six years in prison.

It seems to me the only thing protecting these people would be claiming informed consent due to the dense EULA presented on activating the device. Im not really sure it would hold up in court though


This argument is a denial of the existence and effectiveness of microtargeting.


No it is not. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with it but it’s arguing that the harm of microtargeting is at the very least overstated.




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