A settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the New Jersey Attorney General will cost Vizio $2.2 million. That sum will settle the charges with both the state and federal agencies after a complaint that Vizio installed software on 11 million smart TVs to track viewing histories with consumers’ knowledge. As part of the settlement, a federal court ordered the company to disclose its data collection and sharing practices and get express consent from customers before doing so.
What’s more, Vizio must delete any user data collected before March 1, 2016. According to the original complaint filed by the FTC and New Jersey AG, the company worked with a third party to build smart TVs that could capture “second-by-second” viewing information about what’s on the screen. That includes details on content from cable, internet, set-top boxes, DVD players, over-the-air broadcasts and other streaming devices.
In a blog post explaining the case, FTC senior attorney Lesley Fair says Vizio began making smart TVs in 2014 that automatically tracked the owners viewing habits and beamed that info back to its servers. Fair explains the company also added the tracking tech to older models via a software update. All of this was done without clearly informing customers or getting the proper consent to do so.
Fair also says that Vizio sold the collected viewing data to advertisers. Those details included IP addresses that could be matched to the owner and household. From there, third parties could use the information to gather personal details like sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. Vizio didn’t allow the companies it was working with to identify users by name, but it did allow those third parties to track user habits across devices.
Vizio will pay $1.5 million to the FTC to settle the charges in addition to a civil penalty to the state of New Jersey that brings the total to $2.2 million. The company must also implement a privacy program that evaluates its use of consumer data on a regular basis in addition to deleting most of the information it gathered. We’ve reached out to Vizio for a comment on the matter and we’ll update this post when we hear back.