The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published a blog post that will most likely creep a lot of you out. If you own or have ever owned a Vizio TV you may want to unpack the rest of this story while you’re sitting down. According to the FTC, consumers have purchased more than 11 million internet-connected Vizio TV sets since 2010. According to a complaint filed by the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, those consumers had no clue that Vizio was watching them while they watched their TVs.
In 2014, Vizio started making their TVs with an auto-tracking feature that captured what consumers were watching and sent that data to Vizio servers. Vizio went as far as to retrofit their older model sets by installing the same tracking software remotely without users consent or knowledge. The software Vizio was using collected a selection of pixels on the viewer’s screen and compared it to a database of content. Not only did Vizio capture pixels from the screen, they also found a way to get the data from cable boxes and streaming devices hooked into the Vizio TV.
Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.
According to the FTC, Vizio did not disclose any of this to the consumer, instead, they packaged the software into what they called “Smart Interactivity.” The company billed this service as a way the consumer could get program suggestions and offers.
To settle the case, Vizio has agreed to stop unauthorized tracking, to prominently disclose its TV viewing collection practices, and to get consumers’ express consent before collecting and sharing viewing information. In addition, the company must delete most of the data it collected and put a privacy program in place that evaluates Vizio’s practices and its partners. The order also includes a $1.5 million payment to the FTC and an additional civil penalty to New Jersey for a total of $2.2 million.
Makes you wonder what every other company out there collecting data from you is doing, doesn’t it? What do you think of this story? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.Source: FTC
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