– Updated 03-26-2017 – Vizio will pay $2.2 million to the FTC and the state of New Jersey to settle a lawsuit alleging it collected customers’ TV-watching habits without their permission.
In addition to the $2.2 million in payments, Vizio will now have to get clear consent from viewers before collecting and sharing data on their viewing habits. It’ll also have to delete all data gathered by these methods before March 1st, 2016 according to the Verge.
… VIZIO will use Viewing Data together with your IP address and other Non-Personal Information in order to inform third party selection and delivery of targeted and re-targeted advertisements … delivered to smartphones, tablets, PCs or other internet-connected devices that share an IP address or other identifier with your Smart TV.
Vizio’s competitors Samsung (005930) and LG Electronics (LGLD) can also track users’ viewing habits via their smart TV offerings, ProPublica‘s Julia Angwin pointed out, but the feature has to be explicitly turned on by the users. The collection of viewing data by Vizio’s Smart TVs is turned on by default, as is the Smart Interactivity feature that manages it.
According to the IEEE, Vizio smart TVs can track data related to whatever TV programming and related commercials you’re watching and link such data with the time, date, channel, and TV service provider. On most of the over 15 million Smart TVs sold, Vizio will also track whether you view TV programs live or later on. Vizio knows what you’re watching even if it’s a DVD being played on a gaming console or show being watched via cable TV. The identification tracking technology can differentiate between 100 billion data points.
While, in theory, IP addresses are not personal information, they actually can be linked to individuals if there is enough information (specific attributes like age, profession, etc.) tied to it.
ProPublica‘s Angwin’s sources, tell her that Vizio has been working with data broker Neustar to combine viewing data with this type of information about the user.
TechHive reports that backlash against the intrusive spying has started. Two lawsuits (Reed v. Cognitive Media Network, Inc. (PDF) and David Watts et. al. v Vizio Holdings Inc et. al. (PDF)) have been filed in California against Vizio and their partners about their data collection habits.
The suits accuses Vizio and Cognitive of secretly installing tracking software on the former’s smart TVs in a way that violates various federal and state laws.
The suits allege that Vizio violated the Video Privacy Protection Act. The Video Privacy Protection Act prohibits any company engaged in rental, sale or delivery of audio-visual content and not necessarily just video tapes from divulging any personally identifiable information about its customer to a third-party, except where the customer has clearly consented to such data sharing.
Of course, Vizio has previously argued it’s not a video tape service provider at all, and so this particular law doesn’t apply to it.
I pointed out as far back as 2011 that Smart TV’s are a dumb idea for privacy.
Consumer Reports offers tips on how to stop your Smart TV from spying on you here.
Ralph Bach has been in IT for fifteen years and has blogged from his Bach Seat about IT, careers and anything else that catches his attention since 2005. You can follow me at Facebook and Twitter. Email the Bach Seat here.