Now the smart TV company must pay the FTC for its shady practices.
Tech skeptics worried about personal privacy and the internet of things: Your fears are realized. Smart TV maker Vizio will pay $2.2 million as part of a settlement for years of tracking and collecting viewing data from 11 million devices without customers’ consent?—?or knowledge.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General filed a complaint against Vizio and subsidiary Inscape Services for its tracking practices. The settlement sets a precedent for consumer protection as it applies to connected devices and new technology.
In 2014, Vizio rolled out connected TVs pre-installed with Inscape’s ACR content recognition software and retrofitted older models to include the spying software. TVs were automatically tracked every second, with pixels matched to a content database to identify viewing data. Vizio collected over 100 billion data points each day under the guise of their “Smart Interactivity” feature, which promised to “enable program offers and suggestions.” That never happened, nor did Vizio make clear it tracked what was on a customer’s TV. Really, it was an illusion to hide shady monitoring practices.
Vizio took IP addresses to data aggregators that deduced unique information about customers. The info encompassed everything from age, sex and income to marital status and household size. While names weren’t leaked, the type of information could easily lead to real identification. Vizio cashed in by selling the data to third-party advertisers.
Later in 2016, Vizio did alert customers that they tracked data?—?in a ghost of a one-time popup that flashed on the TV screen without opt-out information or the need for confirmation or action from the user.
The crazy part: One count claims the TV viewing habits Vizio collected and shared falls under “sensitive information.” It’s now included in the same category as your Social Security number, medical information and specific geolocations.
Vizio will pay up $1.5 million to the FTC and $700,000 to the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General. They must halt all unauthorized monitoring, implement clear TV data collection and sharing practices with consumers’ explicit consent, and trash the consumer data collected up until March 2016. And while the lawsuit won’t tear Vizio’s finances down, the damage done to the brand may be irreparable.
The settlement solidifies the need for consumer consent and awareness before companies share information or hide under complex tech talk. Meaning for now, I can watch “Vanderpump Rules” in peace without worries of a nosy neighbor of a TV company secretly spying on my screen.