❝ This week, Vizio, one of the biggest makers of internet-connected televisions, agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle charges that it has been collecting and selling viewing data from millions of TVs without the knowledge or consent of the sets’ owners. The charges, brought by the Federal Trade Commission and the New Jersey attorney general’s office, have some serious implications for consumers and smart TV makers.
❝ Here’s what you should know.
Vizio, which has sold more than 11 million internet-connected TVs since 2010, and its data arm earns money by licensing people’s TV viewing information in three main ways, according to a complaint from the agencies.
One is through audience measurement — showing what programs and commercials people watched, along with how and when they viewed it. Another is from gauging the effectiveness of advertisements, including the ability to “analyze a household’s behavior across devices,” using the IP address attached to all the internet-enabled gadgets in a home. That could mean tracking whether someone visited a website on their laptop after seeing a fast food commercial, or if an online ad motivated them to watch a TV show. The third is by targeting ads to people on other devices, like phones or tablets, based on what they watched on TV.
❝ The complaint says that Vizio has manufactured TVs since at least February 2014 with software turned on by default that collects “information about what a consumer is watching on a second-by-second basis.” It also was said to have remotely installed the software…onto TVs sold without it. Data…are sent to Vizio servers and matched to a database of TV shows, movies and commercials. Vizio called the tracking “Smart Interactivity,”…and portrayed it as a feature for program suggestions.
❝ When TVs were updated with the software, people were notified through a brief pop-up, above, saying “Smart Interactivity has been enabled on your TV,” without disclosure on the data collection. In March 2016, once the F.T.C. and the New Jersey attorney general’s ’s office investigations were pending, the complaint said that a new pop-up appeared that referred to the data collection for the first time.
RTFA. More about the sleaze so common to much of the tech industry.
And, yes, I turned off the “feature” on my Vizio TV.