Smart TV manufacturer Vizio will be forced to pay a $2.2 million settlement fee following the discovery that their TVs collected information from 11 million devices without the knowledge or consent of the owners.
Ars Technica reports that a complaint filed on Monday by the US Federal Trade Commission states that Vizio’s internet connected TVs contained automated content recognition software, which was used to capture data of what the TVs displayed without the owners permission. This data, along with personal information about the TV owner, was transmitted back to Vizio servers where it was sold by Vizio to third-parties who used the data to gain insight into audience measurement, analysis, and tracking.
FTC lawyers state in the filed complaint, “For all of these uses, Defendants provide highly specific, second-by-second information about television viewing. Each line of a report provides viewing information about a single television. In a securities filing, Vizio states that its data analytics program, for example, ‘provides highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy, which can be used to generate intelligent insights for advertisers and media content providers.'”
Vizio officials defended the data collection in a statement: “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.”
Vizio’s data collection dates back to February 2014 when new devices were shipped with ACR installed and older models were updated with with ACR via the internet. The ACR software collected personal data from all Vizio TV users such as their IP address, age, sex, income, marital status, household size, education level and home ownership. This data mining was hidden under the guise of a feature called “Smart interactivity” that was described as a feature that “enables program offers and suggestions.”
The complaint further elaborated on the technical information that Vizio TV’s collected from their users,
Through the ACR software, Vizio’s televisions transmit information about what a consumer is watching on a second-by-second basis. Defendants’ ACR software captures information about a selection of pixels on the screen and sends that data to Vizio servers, where it is uniquely matched to a database of publicly available television, movie, and commercial content. Defendants collect viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, external streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Defendants have stated that the ACR software captures up to 100 billion data points each day from more than 10 million VIZIO televisions. Defendants store this data indefinitely.
Defendants’ ACR software also periodically collects other information about the television, including IP address, wired and wireless MAC addresses, WiFi signal strength, nearby WiFi access points, and other items.
Vizio will pay $1.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission and $700,000 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer affairs with the stipulation that Vizio must delete all data collected before March 1st 2016.