Politicians Using Smart-TV Data for Ads

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Politicians Using Smart-TV Data for Ads
Short Title Politicians Using Smart-TV Data for Campaign Ads
Location United States
Date 2019

Taxonomy Surveillance, Secondary Use, Identification, Aggregation
Information Identifying, Behavioral, Preference, Computer Device, Contact, Location
Threat Actors Vizio, Roku, Dish Network, DirecTV, Aristotle Inc., eMerges, NationBuilder, Political campaign advertisers

Affected Smart TV owners
High Risk Groups Voters
Secondary Consequences Changed Behavior

Political campaign advertisers are using data collected by smart TV in combination with voter information, to target people precisely.


In 2017 the products of smart TV manufacturer Vizio were found to be tracking consumers in minute detail, without their knowledge or consent. SurveillanceThe FTC and the state of New Jersey fined Vizio $2.2 million in 2017.

All these data about user habits is being sold to advertisers because it allows companies to place people in easy-to-target audience categories: parents, Spanish speakers, gamers, and so on. Using the data collected from TV to sell to advertisers can be seen as Secondary Use.

In 2019 it appeared that political campaign advertisers are highly interested in these data, using them in combination with voter information, to target people precisely.

Third-party companies like Aristotle, eMerges, and NationBuilder have made a lucrative business of compiling databases of segmented voter information—names, addresses, gender, race, party affiliation, voting history, donation history, and so on—and selling them to political campaigns, which then use them to target canvassing efforts. This is an example of Aggregation.

All the supposedly “anonymized” data the TV is collecting isn’t anonymous if it gets paired with just one other piece of user personal information. The data collected could be combined with other data sources to identify users by matching known devices (the smart TV that already has your email address) to websites or other IoT (internet of things) devices that use the same Wi-Fi, phones, laptops. This could create a more complete picture of what users watch and browse, the websites they visit, some offline behavior, and other devices they use.

Campaigns, or third parties working on their behalf, now work with providers such as Vizio, Roku, Dish Network, and DirecTV.

Risk Statistics

Laws and Regulations