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No digital privacy with Smart TV

VIZIO faces a $2.2 million settlement for “spying” on owners of their Smart TV’s, selling information to unknown third parties.

By: Kitiana Adams, Staff Writer

The American privately held company VIZIO, was faced with a $2.2 million settlement charge from the Federal Trade Commission and New Jersey Commission of Consumers Affairs after being caught monitoring viewing habits of television set owners and selling the information to advertisers without consent from consumers. The FTC announced on Feb. 6 that a court ordered VIZIO to “prominently disclose and obtain affirmative express consent for its data collection and sharing practice” going forward. The process used to collect the data, automated content recognition, also referred to as ACR, allowed VIZIO to collect data from the Smart TVs and transmit it back to a home base for sale to third parties.

Although it’s not clear if video games played on the television could be “fingerprinted,” the high-selling UHD TV company took partial screenshots of the viewers channels while also capturing what DVDs, Blu-rays and streaming services were being watched. VIZIO sold specific demographic information of viewing data such as gender, income, martial status, education level, household value, household size, and home ownership. The company is required to delete all data that was collected before March 1, 2016.

In a statement, VIZIO General Counsel Jerry Huang is quoted saying, “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.” Huang went on to say, “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.”

The trust between the consumer and the manufacturer has now been broken and may be irreparable because of VIZIO’s actions and could cause other manufacturers’ sales to decrease due to customers’ concern of being spied on in the comfort of their own homes but for those who own a LCD by VIZIO- don’t lose hope.

Moving forward, VIZIO will have to get consent from TV set owner in order to share their data. Commentators online suggested that VIZIO owners throw away their Smart TVs all together but that does not seem a sensible idea.

The “Smart Interactivity” feature was the setting allowing VIZIO to collect data but can be changed simply by turning this feature off.  The alternate solution would be disconnecting the Smart TV from the home internet connection which unfortunately means there wouldn’t be access to the “smart features” like Netflix or Youtube but it would also mean that VIZIO wouldn’t be able to transmit any data about viewing habits.

Your thoughts?