Vizio TVs caught spying on consumers, fined $2.2-M
MANILA, Philippines – The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday, February 6, US time, announced that TV maker Vizio had gathered consumer data through their smart TVs.
For their actions, the commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General levied a $2.2 million fine on the company – an amount which the company has agreed to pay without further debate.
According to the FTC, Vizio started collecting viewing data from consumers through 11 million smart TVs. These smart TVs were equipped with what's called a "Smart Interactivity" feature that essentially saw what viewers watched.
The feature made use of what's called "automatic content recognition" technology, which took a screenshot of a portion of whatever was being watched and then matched that screenshot with a database.
Using the technique, Vizio was able to know what users were watching, regardless of content source – streaming, terrestrial broadcasts, cable, you name it. It was also able to record when a viewer watched a show, and whether it was watched live or recorded.
Vizio then sold all that data – essentially a user's viewing history – to advertisers and other parties, said the FTC. What's worse is that according to the FTC, the company did this without the consent of the consumer. Since data collection began in 2014, Vizio also allegedly installed the tracking software on older models in a sneaky, remote manner – again without due consent.
The Next Web added that aside from viewing data, Vizio's TVs also picked up household IP addresses, nearby access points, and zip codes.
The company – an American brand acquired by Chinese company LeEco in mid-2016 – agreed to stop unauthorized data tracking and collection, and to delete the data it collected before the imposed deadline of March 1, 2016.
Vizio's only remaining point of contention? In a statement, the company explained its data collection program "never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information." The company also said it used "viewing data in the ‘aggregate’ to create summary reports measuring viewing audiences or behaviors."
The $2.2-million payment by Vizio is split into payments of $1.5 million to the FTC and $1 million to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, with $300,000 of that payment suspended.
Nevertheless, the incident shows the dangers of how smart appliances can be used to breach privacy and listen in on your behavior without your knowledge. As devices like refrigerators, washing machines, and home speakers become smarter in the coming years, it's important for consumers to be more adamant about protecting their privacy.
Who's seeing your data? How are companies protecting the data you give them? What data is being colllected? Did the company ask for permission to acquire data?
When you entrust your data to a company, you're trusting them to protect your information from data breach, hacks, identity theft, and individuals looking to use your information in a bad way. Your information has value. If the company is not giving you enough in return, it's smarter to just shut off your device's data-collection activities.
For TVs, ZDNet suggests that you turn off your Vizio's Smart Interactivity feature. It also warns that LG and Samsung also have their own data collection features in their smart TVs called LivePlus and SyncPlus, respectively. These options can also be turned off via the menu. – Rappler.com