Vizio illegally collects user data using its smart TVs
Vizio Smart TVs are watching you. Image: TheUSBport.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint against Vizio on Monday. The company’s television sets contain a piece of software that reportedly gathers data from users without their prior consent.

Defendants provide data on their television habits. What they watch, and when, straight to the company’s servers. Vizio stated they did not collect personal data, such as name or address, from the information they receive from the smart televisions.

Information tracking is a problem that many users still struggle with on many of their devices and social media profiles. Many institutions, such as the FCC, currently work to avoid it. Other companies such as Facebook and Google have engaged in similar practices.

The tracking started two years ago in February

Both new TVs and previously sold devices received a software update containing the ACR program, short for automated content recognition. According to online reports, it gathers second-by-second data on what the users watch.

Vizio, reports stated, later sold the information to third-parties. Those providers mainly include statistical research businesses that provide tracking, analytical data, and audience measurement information such as ratings.

Even though Vizio claimed personal information did not go attached with TV viewing data, its sets also gathered the user’s gender, education level, place of residence, and more. The software did so by periodically pairing IP addresses with assigned televisions.

The lawsuit asks for monetary relief to affected customers

The settlement requires Vizio to pay $1.5 million to the FTC, as well as $700,000 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. The company also pledged to delete all the information they gathered from TVs before March 1, 2017.

Vizio also agreed to disclose all data, which reportedly affected more than 11 million consumers. The company also promised to acquire the necessary consent from its buyers to collect data if they do so again.

Undisclosed data collection is a common practice in the tech world

LG is another entertainment manufacturer that collected data from its users unknowingly. According to reports, they even went as far as gathering data from flash drives connected to its smart TVs.

Facebook has been under fire for the same reason, in late 2015, the Belgian Privacy Commission started an inquiry on their user tracking. The social media giant has also received accusations of selling personal information to advertising companies.

Google has also done this in the past, with allegations going as far as 2010. It currently requires user approval before doing so in most of its products, but still face user complaints regarding privacy.

Source: Ars Technica