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Vizio to pay $2.2m for tracking viewing habits through Smart TVs

07 Feb 2017 | Rasmus Larsen |

Vizio has been tracking users’ viewing habits through more than 11 million Smart TVs without consent. The company will pay $2.2 million to settle with FTC and will have to change its practice, which could lead other TV manufacturers to follow.

Vizio used image recognition software

Vizio, the largest US-based TV manufacturer, has been collecting tons of data about your viewing habits. By using image recognition software the TVs were capable of identifying the content no matter whether it came in via broadcast, streaming, USB or your home network.

"Vizio failed to inform consumers that the settings also enabled the collection of consumers’ viewing data"
The methodology behind the data collection was revealed in August 2015 when Vizio filed for IPO. The prosecutor in the case argued that Vizio cross-referenced the collected data with demographic data such as sex, age, marital status, income, and other parameters with the intention of serving targeted ads.

Vizio has now settled with the Federal Trade Commission in USA and has agreed to pay a $2.2 million dollar fine. The company will also change its practice and ask the viewer to agree to the terms beforehand. All data collected up until March 1st 2016 has to be deleted.

- ”According to the complaint, VIZIO touted its “Smart Interactivity” feature that “enables program offers and suggestions” but failed to inform consumers that the settings also enabled the collection of consumers’ viewing data. The complaint alleges that VIZIO’s data tracking—which occurred without viewers’ informed consent—was unfair and deceptive, in violation of the FTC Act and New Jersey consumer protection laws,” said FTC.

Vizio contests that collected data was crossed with demographic data, and added that collected data had been anonymized.

- “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,” said Jerry Huang, VIZIO General Counsel. “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.”

Inscape TV tracking

Could force others to follow

Vizio will now have to revise its methods and ask for v consent before starting to track viewing habits. It appears that the company will continue to track you if you accept the terms.

- “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,” Vizio noted.

The settlement will likely force other manufacturers of Smart TVs will have to revise their tracking methods, too. It could tip the scale from an opt-out approach to an opt-in.

If you own a Vizio TV you can go to the menu and disable “ACR” (Automatic Content Recognition) to stop tracking of viewing habits.

- Source: FTC, Vizio

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