Vizio pays $2.5M to settle covert viewer data collection allegations
Your TV might have been watching you, as much as you watched it.
Vizio, Inc and its Inscape Services subsidiary have agreed to pay New Jersey and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $2,500,000 to settle allegations that its Smart TVs collected viewing-habit data and sold it to marketing firms and data brokers.
According to information from the office of New Jersey Attorney General Christopher J. Porrino, a joint complaint alleged violations of consumer protection laws.
The settlement awards New Jersey $1,000,000 of the total. Of that, $915,940 accounts for civil penalties. The state will suspend $300,000 of the civil penalty if the companies comply in full.
The data was used to track viewing habits, to calculate advertising effectiveness, and to target consumers for specific types of advertising.
The complaint accused Vizio of manufacturing sets, since February 2014, capable of continuously tracking what is watched, and transmit the data in real time through Inscape software. The also alleged that the same software was retrofitted into older models remotely.
Data was gathered through cable and broadband providers, set-top boxes, external streaming devices, DVD players and on-air broadcasts, authorities said.
Additionally, authorities alleged that the software collected data including IP addresses, wired and wireless MAC addresses, wi-fi strength, and close-perimeter wi-fi access points.
New Jersey Consumer Affairs Director Steve Lee commented that the clandestine info harvesting "denied consumers the chance to make an informed choice about keeping their activities private."
No indication was given whether any other manufacturers and affiliates have similar capabilities, or are under scrutiny.
Vizio also agreed to destroy all data gathered prior to March 1, 2016, to overtly disclose the data collectible through the "Smart Interactivity" feature for consumers, and to obtain express permission from set owners before collecting datga.
The company is also required to organize a comprehensive program to teach buyers the privacy risks, have it verified by an outside firm every two years, to keep data-gathering records for the next 20 years, and to guard the confidentiality of accrued consumer information.