It has been brought to light that Smart TV manufacturer Vizio has been secretly collecting data on what sort of content people watch on their TV and then selling the data to advertisers.
This Forbes report says that the smart TV manufacturer Vizio has been using advanced big data analytics to study user behavior while people watch programs on their TVs. The company has already had to pay a settlement of $2.2 million to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) after the commission sued the Smart TV manufacturer for monitoring its customers without their consent.
According to the above Forbes link, this is what the Vizio Smart TV does to collect your watching data:
The FTC this week announced that viewing data of individual households was monitored through a built-in spy device which used image recognition technology. Once every second, software in the Vizio TVs would read pixel data from a segment of the screen. This was sent home and compared against a database of film, television and advertising content to determine what was being watched.
The FTC has revealed that Vizio went further than this – matching data on what was being watched with IP addresses, and selling it, along with third party demographic data, to businesses and organizations with a need for audience measurement.
Most of the Smart TV manufacturers these days incorporate technologies to study user behavior but if some sort of data is collected, it has to be collected after acquiring consent of the user (be it with consent management systems or other systems). It cannot be done secretly without people’s knowledge and this has been the problem with the Vizio Smart TVs. Even the Samsung Smart TV has the ability to listen to what people are talking at their homes when they are sitting in front of their TV sets.
This FTC web page explains what Vizio was doing behind the TV screen.
Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent.
Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details – for example, sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices.
The FTC has laid out some guidelines for Smart TV manufacturers regarding the collection of information not just stream better content but also to monitor user behavior. Per se, collecting user behavior information isn’t illegal, what’s illegal is, not telling them and collecting data without consent. Here are a few suggestions from FTC:
- Explain your data collection practices upfront.
- Get consumers’ consent before you collect and share highly specific information about the entertainment preferences.
- Make it easy for consumers to exercise options.
- Established consumer protection principles apply to new technology.
How do you stop the Vizio Smart TV from spying on you?
This ZDNet update explains how you can stop your Vizio Smart TV from spying on you. You can turn off smart interactivity by following these steps:
- Press the MENU button on your TV’s remote
- Select Settings
- Highlight Smart Interactivity
- Stress RIGHT arrow to change settings to Off.
Does following these steps help? Although theoretically and technically this may turn off the feature that allows your smart TV from spying on you, it cannot be said for sure.