Home entertainment hardware maker Vizio has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Federal Trade Commission over charges that the company installed software on 11 million of its smart TVs to collect viewing data without informing customers or seeking their consent.
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In addition, it also gathered each household’s IP address, nearby access points, and zip code, shared that information with other companies to target ads towards Vizio TV owners.
From here on out, Vizio will have to disclose any data collection practices it engages in and secure permission from TV owners. It’ll also have to delete the data it gathered.
To see if you’re still being spied on, go to your Vizio TV’s settings menu and look for information about automated content recognition (ACR) – you’ll want to turn off any options listed under this.
In a statement, Vizio said that its data collection program “never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information,” and that it used that information “in the ‘aggregate’ to create summary reports measuring viewing audiences or behaviors.”
Thankfully, that’s all it was – but it could’ve been far more intrusive, and customers would never have known. What’s more, that information could’ve requested by government and law enforcement agencies, or even stolen by hackers.
What’s worrying is that Vizio engaged in this shady business even though it’s already making money from the sale of its TVs. It seems like there’s simply too much money to be made from selling data about consumer behavior for companies to stop and think about whether they’re respecting their customers’ rights to privacy.
While the fine isn’t exactly a huge amount for a large company like Vizio, hopefully the case will serve to remind other hardware makers that it’s not okay to snoop on customers without their consent. Hopefully.