Vizio Pays $2.2 Million as Settlement for Spying on Viewing Habits of Smart TV Users

Posted in Invasion of Privacy at 2:19 pm by kevin

American UHD TV maker, Vizio, Inc., settles a lawsuit fight against them by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the amount of $2.2 million. The independent government agency acted upon the alleged gathering of television viewing habits of the customers without their knowledge.

According to the lawsuit, Vizio started collecting the information using the internet-based TVs they sold to the public in February 2014. However, some reports say that the so-called “spying” began around 2010.

With the use of software incorporated in the smart TVs they manufactured, they were able to track highly specific viewing information of more than 11 million viewers. They then teamed up with another firm to be responsible for the demographic information. This included age, sex, marital status and household income, among others.

The collected viewers’ profile was then sold to marketers to be used for market segmentation and to identify specific target markets. This practice prompted FTC to file a privacy lawsuit against the consumer electronics manufacturer.

As part of the settlement, Vizio ended up paying the money to the state of New Jersey and the FTC. Moreover, they were also ordered to erase whatever data they have collected before the first day of March 2016 as well as lay down their cards in terms of data gathering techniques. On top of this, they have to get the consent of the users before they collect any data.

Meanwhile, spokeswoman for FTC, Juliana Gruenwald Henderson revealed that this was the very first complaint they have filed against a smart TV company.

Maureen Ohlhausen, acting Republican FTC chairman, also came out with a statement about the settlement they have with Vizio. According to her, the unanimous 3-0 decision of the commission categorized the television viewing activity as “sensitive information” that warrants legal protection. That said, its disclosure will be considered as “substantial injury”.

The settlement money might not be a staggering amount but it was the government agency’s way to give a warning to companies that taking advantage of consumers and using smart TV software for unauthorized access to pertinent information will not be taken lightly.

The same sentiments were also shared by FTC attorney, Kevin Moriarty, on a blogpost. It read, “The data generated when you watch television can reveal a lot about you and your household. So, before a company pulls up a chair next to you and starts taking careful notes on everything you watch (and then shares it with its partners), it should ask if that’s okay with you.”

From their part, Vizio released a statement with regards to the resolution. The company expressed that it was happy with the outcome. It also stated that there was no pairing of the collected viewing data with information that included personal information like the name or contact details of the viewers.

As for the complaint, Vizio said that it was only about the practice of using the data of consumers to come up with a summary report, in relation to their viewing habits.