Vizio tracked TV viewers and sold data without consent

By Scorpus · 23 replies
Feb 6, 2017
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  1. Vizio is one of the most popular TV manufacturers in the United States, mostly thanks to its aggressive pricing and solid line-up of 4K displays. As it turns out, Vizio managed to undercut their competitors not by accepting smaller margins on their TVs, but by selling their users' viewing data to advertisers without their consent.

    This startling piece of information was revealed as part of a settlement between the US Federal Trade Commission and Vizio. The settlement requires Vizio disclose their data collection practices, pay a settlement fee of $2.2 million, and get explicit consent from its users if it wants to continue collecting and sharing their data.

    According to the FTC's complaint, Vizio used automatic content recognition (ACR) software to capture second-by-second information about what was being displayed on the TV. This data was captured without the viewer's consent, and then sold and transmitted to unnamed third parties for audience analysis and tracking.

    The FTC also claims Vizio bundled the ACR viewing data with personal information such as IP addresses so third parties could track users across devices. The data collected by Vizio enabled advertisers to determine information such as age, gender, education level, income, and marital status.

    In a securities filing, Vizio even admitted its data collection program "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."

    While many Vizio TVs shipped with ACR software pre-installed, the company even decided to push a software update to older TVs that would enable ACR-based tracking. Vizio began tracking users without their consent in February 2014.

    Vizio's official statement on their settlement with the FTC is as follows:

    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. 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.

    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 isn't the only company that uses ACR technology to track smart TV users, however most other manufacturers do include some sort of notice – usually well hidden or included as part of a long list of terms and conditions – that the TV may track their viewing habits.

    Permalink to story.

  2. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,954   +1,402

    I had a feeling this was going on - anything with "smart" in the name is usually a spying device - but the sheer hubris is astounding. Worse, that penalty is a joke - barely even a slap on the wrist! Every Vizio purchaser who's been affected by the company's illegal spying should be compensated. I think $50 per user would be adequate IN ADDITION to the fine. If it bankrupts them, so much the better. Its long past time that electronics companies get the message that this kind of underhanded privacy invasion and profiteering at customer expense is unacceptable. And if you actually bought an Amazon Echo or similar device, you need your head examined.
  3. ikesmasher

    ikesmasher TS Evangelist Posts: 3,028   +1,334

    2.2 mil is nothing and doesnt disuade anyone.
  4. Badonk4

    Badonk4 TS Member Posts: 30   +21

    Never buying Vizio. I'll tell all my subscribers not to buy from them.
    SirChocula likes this.
  5. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,337   +1,434

    Yeah, it's frankly a joke. There is nothing stopping them from just turning around and doing this again. No reason not too if they are making more than the fees they have to pay.
  6. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,274

    Meh! Everybody does this. They've just been caught out, that's all. If you're online in anyway, shape or form, your data is being collected irrespective of your consent.
    Kibaruk likes this.
  7. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,583   +2,153

    Hmmmmmm .... sorry to disagree, but everyone does not do this and that's a poor excuse for allowing such violations of privacy. I think it might be more acceptable if all data was collected anonymously so it did not and could not be backtraced to the viewer. Data collection does indeed happen world wide, but it is the secrecy of the data and cable industries that prompted this and it's now completely out of control. Nothing a few well enforced privacy laws wouldn't fix ....... yeah, good luck with that!
  8. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,756   +2,073

    It's like those oil spillage jokes - whenever a tanker breaks and results in oil spillage, the oil company is fined less than the money necessary to even get the oil out of the water. And this is going on all the time, a tanker that breaks still ends up profitable for the company even after paying the fine. This is a cruel joke.
  9. liammac002

    liammac002 TS Enthusiast Posts: 41   +8

    Well damn, I just bought a Vizio 4K TV a few months ago. Not gonna get one of those again.
  10. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,362   +940

    Yup. Cookies anyone? We are all being tracked every day, all the time, since... hell the 90s. Anyone who think otherwise and actually cares about it, stop using the internet, get rid of your mobile phone and crawl under a rock and live there for the rest of your life... even then, you will be the crazy hermit who everyone goes to see so you will probably still get tracked one way or the other.

    You think Samsung or LG or Sony don't do this?? Heck even if you get a Roku or a Chromecast or another thing, you will still be tracked. "My VPN makes me anonymous" yeaaah no, your movements are still being tracked, even in your anonymity there is something to track.

    I'm looking for a TV and went to the store and saw a "Vizio" next to LG Samsung and Sony, for me as a new comer to the northern parts was one of those brand-less TVs that I would probably not get, but next to the others looked on par screen quality wise and the price makes it a bargain.
    Skidmarksdeluxe and Reehahs like this.
  11. gusticles41

    gusticles41 TS Maniac Posts: 233   +212

    Just bought a Vizio a few months ago. I look forward to the class action lawsuit. Them paying a fine to the govt at my expense isn't going to cut it.

    This is disgraceful. Yes, other manufacturers get away with it by hiding legal mumbo jumbo in a disclosure, but we've been falling down this slippery slope of privacy for a while.
  12. illrigger

    illrigger TS Rookie

    They were bought by a different company a year ago, who are the ones who noticed this and put the process to shut it down in motion. So if that's your reason, it's the wrong one.
  13. illrigger

    illrigger TS Rookie

    Vizio no longer exists as a company, so good luck with that.
  14. gusticles41

    gusticles41 TS Maniac Posts: 233   +212

    LeEco would still have to pay up. That's the responsibility you assume when acquiring a brand.
  15. Roush60

    Roush60 TS Rookie

    Do what I did, don't connect it to the internet. In my house, my wi-fi hub has mac address filtering set to only accept the mac address of my son's smart phone, his laptop and my hard wired CAT6 connection to our modem. I do have a DTV sat receiver for what little TV programing we watch and it also is not connected to my internet service. So, whatever traffic the tv and sat receiver try to send over my internet connection, goes nowhere.
  16. Roush60

    Roush60 TS Rookie

    Then do what I did, don't set it up to connect to the internet. To connect it to the internet, you have to manually go into the settings and set it up with your wi-fi network name and passcode. It would be a little different if it is hard wired with CAT 5 or CAT 6 cable. I use MAC address filtering on my internet modem so that only those devices with the MAC addresses I want on my network can get access. I also realize that this might not be an acceptable option for those with Netflix and other streaming services subscriptions.
    gusticles41 likes this.
  17. gusticles41

    gusticles41 TS Maniac Posts: 233   +212

    I definitely like your idea, but my unit is a "Home Theater Display". Aka, the whole thing revolves around a built-in Chromecast. I certainly could run everything off my Xbox at the expense of some convenience.
  18. I have a Modest Proposal. For the greater good of our species, we should just make everyone's lives totally open, including bank accounts, credit cards – everything. We wouldn't have to worry about passwords, encryption, or anything else to protect ourselves. Hackers, scammers, nosy governments, and greedy corporations would be be overwhelmed. There is safety in numbers. Wildebeests have used that defense for however long they have existed. Sure, lions and crocodiles nail a bunch of them, but most of them don't get eaten. If you're grabbed and become lunch for one of the aforementioned predators, then that's just your bad luck. The rest of the herd watches the action then gets back to work. No sweat, no worries, and our species will be better for it. Just don't be taking a nap when the herd moves on.
  19. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,362   +940

    So... it's not meant to not allow it into the network from where you share content, only to close the tv's connection to the internet (When it goes from your home or local network into the wonderful world of the internetz where funny cat pictures live their days).

    Was about to Billy Madison that reply... it could've at least been funny =(
  20. lostinlodos

    lostinlodos TS Booster Posts: 126   +22

    I still think the privacy concerns are over rated. And pull too much attention and time away from important and dangerous issues.
    Do you really care if someone knows you watched criminal minds last night and sends you an advert for free Hulu for 6 months to stream it to any device?
    Our TVs aren't on the internet for one reason, the important reason. Ransomware!
    Now that's something worth getting upset about.
    Advert marketing has been around since Rome. It may be a little more efficient now, but it's just marketing.
    Let's worry about important stuff first.
  21. liammac002

    liammac002 TS Enthusiast Posts: 41   +8

    That's a good idea, I'll do that once I'm back at my house. Thanks!
  22. texasrattler

    texasrattler TS Addict Posts: 277   +83

    No they don't. When another company buys someone, they are not liable for any of the problems that may come before they had bought said company. This is not new, happens all the time when a company gets bought out.

    They have done the right thing in disclosing the issue when they noticed it but are not responsible for the past, as they didn't own the company then. Have fixed said issue. Will they pay any real damages, no. Again they weren't responsible for those issues/actions.
  23. gusticles41

    gusticles41 TS Maniac Posts: 233   +212

    They had to pay a fine, so obviously they were liable for something. Perhaps the practices continued after the acquisition (would be my guess)? That may explain the joke of a fine. Maybe they were only held accountable for the 6 months of data selling.
  24. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 339   +124

    Just another spying toy...

    Your TV is sending your data to the cloud.... fine. You cut your TV intelligence. They still track what you is accessing thru your IP...

    What we need to garantee privacy is a structutal change in ther way the Internet works... But that won't happen till we need to flip the switch in a totally new internet, based on revamped protocol...

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