Vizio has been watching you watch TV. The flat-panel display maker, which was acquired last year by Chinese giant LeEco, will pay $2.2 million to settle claims that it collected viewing data from 11 million TVs without their owners’ consent.
According to a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, Vizio was able to capture second-by-second information about what its TVs were displaying. The monitoring wasn’t limited to built-in smart TV apps, either. It included video from cable set-top boxes, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Vizio also recorded and tracked the TVs’ IP addresses, according to the FTC complaint.
The settlement, announced on Monday, will be split between the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which joined the complaint. In addition, a federal court ordered Vizio to delete any data it collected before March 2016, prominently disclose its data collection and sharing practices, and obtain permission from owners if it wants to track them.
“The data generated when you watch television can reveal a lot about you and your household,” FTC chairman Kevin Moriarty wrote in a blog post. “So, before a company pulls up a chair next to you and starts taking careful notes on everything you watch (and then shares it with its partners), it should ask if that’s O.K. with you. Vizio wasn’t doing that, and the FTC stepped in.”
Moriarty said Vizio’s customers should now be able to find information on data sharing practices in the automated content recognition (“ACR”) section of their TV’s settings menu. For its part, Vizio said that it started sending users on-screen notifications about viewing data collection before the settlement was announced. While the company did not deny the FTC’s allegation of secret data collection, it claimed that the ACR program never collected personally identifiable information.
“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 General Counsel Jerry Huang said in a statement. “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.”