All the better to spam you?
A smart TV company has been fined more than $2 million (£1.6 million) over allegations it monitored what its customers were watching without its permission.
Vizio has agreed to a $2.2 million (£1.7 million) settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its smart televisions that collected info on customers’ watching habits without informing them first.
The American company does not admit guilt as part of the settlement — but will now “prominently” explain to users when it seeks to collect data and obtain their “affirmative express consent” before doing so, introduce a “comprehensive” data privacy program, and delete data collected before March 2016. (You can read the full settlement below.)
Vizio is one of the world’s biggest smart TV makers, and its television come with automated content recognition (ACR) software that can track what its users watch. But, the FTC says, it failed to get permission from its customers before doing so.
“VIZIO collected unique data from each household with a VIZIO smart TV that included not only second-by-second viewing information, but also the household’s IP address, nearby access points, zip code, and other information. They also shared that information with other companies,” the US regulator said.
The collection started in 2014, and more than 11 million television sets were apparently affected. Collecting users’ data without their consent — or knowledge — caused obvious concerns over customer privacy and data protection.
In a statement published on Vizio’s site, general counsel Jerry Huang said that the company “never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information,” and that it is “pleased” with the settlement. Here’s the full statement:
“VIZIO is pleased to reach this resolution with the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Going forward, this resolution sets a new standard for best industry privacy practices for the collection and analysis of data collected from today’s internet-connected televisions and other home devices … The ACR program never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information, and the Commission did not allege or contend otherwise. Instead, as the Complaint notes, the practices challenged by the government related only to the use of viewing data in the ‘aggregate’ to create summary reports measuring viewing audiences or behaviors.
“Today, the FTC has made clear that all smart TV makers should get people’s consent before collecting and sharing television viewing information and VIZIO now is leading the way.”
This isn’t the first time the privacy practices of smart TV makers have come under scrutiny. Back in February 2015, people noticed that Samsung cautioned that its voice-controlled televisions could pick up any “sensitive information” said in front of it — a turn of phrase compared to George Orwell’s dystopian “1984.”