Sci-tech

TV maker secrety tracked consumers' viewing habits

TV maker secrety tracked consumers' viewing habits

Fair writes that Vizio also installed the tracking software on older models remotely.

The data was sold to marketing companies and data brokers to measure viewing habits, to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and to target advertising to particular customers based on their viewing activities, the government said.

Jerry Huang, Vizio's general counsel, noted that the company's automated data collection program did not link the data to people's personally identifiable information. Although the update prompted a pop-up message on the TV sets, the message said that Vizio's privacy policy had changed and offered a web site address with more information. The TV maker will also be required to delete any customer information it collected before March 1, when it began to notify people of the data slurping.

Since 2014, Vizio has manufactured smart TVs "that capture second-by-second information about video displayed on the smart TV, including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices", according to the FTC press release.

Vizio promised to pay $2.2 million in fines to the FTC and New Jersey to settle the suit.

Meanwhile, authorities claim the company's software was collecting "detailed information" from the televisions, providing second-by-second data on what shows and movies they watched and how.


The feature, called "smart interactivity", allegedly continuously tracked viewer habits, including how long people watched TV, what commercials and programs they viewed and what channels they were watching. For its part, Vizio said that it started sending users on-screen notifications about viewing data collection before the settlement was announced. The deal to end a complaint over how 11 million "smart" TVs collected and disseminated the viewing data of its users, however, could be vestiges of a previous administration and may showcase how the consumer protection agency now intends to take a less active role in policing privacy.

Vizio's smart televisions were just a little too smart for the United States Federal Trade Commission's taste.

It has also agreed to implement a privacy program, with biennial assessments.

But in 2015, we learned that Vizio was going above and beyond even the standard personal data collection most smart TVs do. Vizio was then said to have worked with another company to associate demographic information with each household, so that viewing habits could be paired with information like a viewer's "sex, age, income, marital status", and more.

Vizio also has to update its disclosures, "separate and apart" from its privacy policy and terms of use, to "prominently" share what types of viewing data will be collected, used, and shared; with whom; and to what objective.