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Vizio settles FTC lawsuit and agrees to get viewer consent before tracking TV habits

Vizio settles FTC lawsuit and agrees to get viewer consent before tracking TV habits

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Vizio P-Series 2016 review
Chris Welch

Vizio will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it collected customers’ TV-watching habits without their permission.

The lawsuit was filed by the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New Jersey. It alleged that, in 2014, Vizio began using software built into over 11 million smart TVs to capture “highly-specific, second-by-second information about television viewing.” Vizio was then said to have worked with another company to associate demographic information with each household, so that viewing habits could be paired with information like a viewer’s “sex, age, income, marital status,” and more.

TV habits “can reveal a lot about you and your household.”

In addition to the $2.2 million in payments, Vizio will now have to obtain clear consent from viewers before collecting and sharing data on their viewing habits. It’ll also have to delete all data gathered by these methods before March 1st, 2016.

Vizio doesn’t admit fault as part of the settlement, and, in a statement, said it was “pleased” with the resolution. “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,” says Jerry Huang, Vizio’s general counsel.

To some extent, the FTC seems to be trying to make an example of Vizio here. While the settlement isn’t a huge sum, it indicates that companies using smart TV software to their advantage and without getting consumers’ consent will have to answer for their shady practices.

“The data generated when you watch television can reveal a lot about you and your household,” Kevin Moriarty, an FTC attorney, writes in a blog post about the settlement. “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 okay with you.”

Update February 6th, 3:12PM ET: This story has been updated with comment from Vizio.