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.






Social Media Posts Protected by Privacy Settings Are Admissible in Court

Posted in Invasion of Privacy at 3:35 pm by kevin

Even though you’ve meticulously adjusted your privacy settings on Facebook so that only “friends” can see your posts, pictures and activities, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t admissible in court.

This was the case in Nucci v Target Corp., et al where the District Coourt of Appeal of the State of Florida, Fourth District upheld the order of a lower court necessitating that plaintiff Maria Nucci provide photographs originally posted on her Facebook page. According to the court, there is little right to privacy in photos posted on Facebook or any other social networking site.

Nucci is claiming personal injuries against Target when she slipped and fell on a foreign substance in one of their stores. Although she was claiming injury, the photos posted to her Facebook showed otherwise, and that was the issue on appeal. Nucci posted over 30 photos to her Facebook but subsequently deleted them after the pictures were brought up during her deposition.

Nucci didn’t agree with the request of Target to produce the photos because her use of privacy settings meant she had a right to privacy and that the federal Stored Communications Act disallowed the disclosure of her Facebook photos. However, the court argued against that because the photos goes against her damages claim.

This decision by the court isn’t the first of its kind. In Tompkins v Detroit Metro. Airport, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that material shared to friends on a private account and is not viewable by the public is not protected by common law or civil notions of privacy.

Another similar decision was made by the New York Court of Appeals in the case Patterson v Turner Constr. Co. stating that posts made to a Facebook account, if relevant, are not exempt from discovery just because the plaintiff has restricted access to them.

The United States District Court for the Central District of California in the Mailhoit v Home Depot USA Inc case noted that content posted to social media are neither privileged or protected and requests for information should be reasonably calculated in order to lead to admissible evidence.

Going back to the Nucci case, the Florida Appellate Court agreed that discovery requests should be reasonably tailored in order to lead to discovery of admissible evidence. Meaning, Target’s request met that standard.

With regards to the SCA, the court maintained that the SCA disallows providers of communication services from releasing private communications of users, but it doesn’t apply to the individual users themselves.

The court also rejected the relevance objections of Nucci stating that when personal injuries and quality of life are discussed, what one posts on their social networks equals “a day in the life” and are relevant to the damage claims.

Lessons are to be learned for both the defense and the plaintiff’s defense in this case. For the former, they can use social media content as evidence whenever there is a personal injury claim so they can check relevant information regarding the physical injuries and quality of life of the plaintiff.

The latter can check on the social media posting of their client so they can develop a more accurate picture of the scenario that is to come – the challenges, etc. The last thing any lawyer wants is to defend a client who claims to have suffered emotional and physical injuries only to have a photo of them climbing up a mountain presented during deposition.


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Body Cavity Search Gone Bad Lawsuit

Posted in Invasion of Privacy at 9:25 am by kevin

What could be a bigger invasion of privacy than the NSA spying on U. S. civilians? How about customs agents forcing a U. S. citizen to a body cavity search and an “observed bowel movement”?

According to CBS Las Vegas, “The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was ‘brutally’ searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

“Agents quickly stripped searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. But the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, the lawsuit said, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other exams without a warrant.”



Sperm Lawsuits on the Rise

Posted in Infliction of Emotional Distress, Invasion of Privacy at 9:06 am by kevin

The last blog posting was in regard to a lawsuit over a sperm bank in New York that had lost several embryos. This brought to mind that there are several other lawsuits over sperm lately in the news that needs to be discussed.

For instance, the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby DannieLynn, may actually be from Smith’s late husband, Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. It has been rumored that Marshall’s sperm was frozen before his death and used to impregnate Smith.

In another case, a Los Angeles man is suing a sperm bank for invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress when he discovered a concealed camera in the ceiling of the private sperm donation room.

A man in Portland, Oregon is suing a sperm bank, when the company allegedly gave the sperm he was saving for his fiancé to the wrong woman. The $2 million lawsuit is being brought against Oregon Health & Sciences University.

A New York woman is suing a midtown sperm bank for giving her the wrong sample. Her late husband had donated his sperm when he had cancer and she conceived a child after his death. The white couple had a black baby, who is now 4-years-old and has been subjected to taunts.