Vizio has settled charges with the FTC and the state of New Jersey that it secretly collected TV owners’ viewing data, and will pay a $2.2 million fine and delete the data it gathered.
The settlement is the result of Vizio using proprietary software that continuously tracked what TV owners were watching and sent the information back to the company. According to the complaint filed by the FTC and New Jersey attorney general, Vizio used automatic content recognition software from its Inscape data services unit to monitor exactly what was on a viewer’s TV at all times. The software is pre-installed on many Vizio TVs sold since February 2014 and also remotely installed it on older TVs that didn’t have it.
“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,” the FTC complaint says.
“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.”
Vizo also collected other information, including IP address, wired and wireless MAC addresses, WiFi signal strength, nearby WiFi access points, and sold some of the collected viewing-habit data to outside companies. The complaint says that Vizio did not notify consumers about the presence of the ACR software until March 2016, when the FTC investigation was already underway. That pop-up notification disappeared after 30 seconds.
“Consumers have no reason to expect that Defendants engaged in second-bysecond tracking of consumer viewing data by surreptitiously decoding content and sending it back to their own servers. Further, Defendants’ representations were not sufficiently clear or prominent to alert consumers to their practices related to data collection and sale of licenses,” the complaint says.
As part of the settlement, Vizio will delete the collected data, pay the $2.2 million fine, and create a privacy program.