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How to stop data collection on your Vizio (or other smart) television

A holiday shopper browses the electronics section at a Target store in Newport, Ky. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

Smart televisions can collect more information about you than you think. That's a lesson that resurfaced this week when TV-maker Vizio agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle government charges that its TVs collected their owners' information without their knowledge. But the truth is, Vizio is not the only TV maker that's getting a look at its users' habits.

Broadly speaking, the tracking technology at play here was “automated content recognition” which, as one may guess from the name, lets companies figure out what kind of content is playing on a television. Many consumers may have agreed to this sort of collection in sweeping “terms and conditions” agreements without realizing it. If you're not interested in sharing this information with manufacturers, there are some steps you can take.

These smart TVs were apparently spying on their owners

The easiest — but most drastic — way to disable your television's tracking is to disconnect it from the Internet. But that prevents the use of features that probably drew you to a smart television in the first place, such as the ability to watch a streaming video service on your big screen. If you don't want to give those up, it's time to visit your settings.

After this week's settlement, Vizio said its users are no longer automatically opted in to the automated content recognition setting and that any information it collected before March 1, 2016, will be deleted. But if you're not sure whether your television is affected, you can head into your settings to see for yourself.

Per Vizio's website, this is the way to do that on its latest televisions:

1. Press the MENU button on your TV's remote or open HDTV Settings app.

2. Select System.

3. Select Reset & Admin.

4. Highlight Smart Interactivity.

5. Press RIGHT arrow to change setting to Off.

Sets made before 2011 should already have the feature turned off. Some of those older TVs have a slightly different process to turn off data collection; the Smart Interactivity feature is its own section in the general settings menu.

If you have a smart television by another maker, there are similar steps that you can take.

Samsung has a program called SyncPlus that can, according to its privacy policy, “enhance video programs by providing interactive content, such as in-program trivia, show insights, games, and promotions, on your SmartTV or other devices.” It also gives advertisers the option to allow consumers to download coupons or apps in response to an ad.

If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you can disable this in the settings menu through the Terms and Policy section.

Are the police tracking you?

It's also worth noting that Samsung came under fire in 2015 for the voice recognition feature on its television sets after the company revealed that conversations in earshot of the TV could be transmitted to third parties. If you'd like to disable that, you can do so through the settings menu: Head to Smart Features, then to Voice Recognition.

LG has also landed in hot water for its smart-television tracking and has stopped collecting data by default. Models older than a few years, however, should have settings for a feature called LivePlus that users can disable. According to Consumer Reports, older LG TVs let you toggle this feature on and off through the settings menu under Options. For newer TVs, head to the General section of the settings menu, then to the About this TV menu. From there, hit User Agreements. You should then get the option to control three settings: Viewing Information, Personal Advertising and Voice Information.

Note that some companies, including Sony, also use Google's Android TV for some of their smart features, which fall under Google's privacy policy. You should be able to see what information Google collects when you set up your television.