Cue the doom and gloom conspiracy theorists, because their nightmare is seemingly coming true. The internet of things is being exploited to spy on consumers. Vizio was just hit with $2.2 million in penalties by the FTC for doing just that.
Vizio was penalized for misleading consumers on exactly what data was being collected by their smart TV’s, and where that data was going. In 2014, people were asked to opt into a feature called “Smart Interactivity”, which promised to give helpful suggestions and special offers. However, they didn’t tell people that it was actually using tech called ACR (automatic content recognition). Vizio used this technology to track exactly what people were watching by the second, and sold that information to advertisers.
The TV manufacturer went all-in on the information they were collecting from a total of 11 million TV’s. Furthermore, they even bought up an ACR outfit called Cognitive Media Networks in 2015. Older TV sets notified viewers that the Smart Interactivity feature was on, and could be switched off in the settings. The notification promptly disappeared after 30 seconds, and never popped back up. Newer TV’s did not notify customers at all.
Vizio makes great televisions. You can even buy them here! They were an American tech success story, founded in 2002 with just three employees. Recently, they were bought up by LeEco for a cool $2 billion. Everyone has been buying smart TV’s in the past few years. Yes, customers want Netflix and Hulu to be integrated right into their TV’s software.
The issue isn’t that they were collecting and selling information. The issue is that they didn’t sufficiently notify people. Vizio are now proclaiming that they are redeeming themselves by becoming a leader in getting consumers’ consent.
From their press release:
“VIZIO is pleased to reach this resolution with the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. 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,” stated Jerry Huang, VIZIO General Counsel. “The ACR program never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information, and the Commission did not allege or contend otherwise. 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.”
“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,” concluded Huang.
What do you geeks think? Are you afraid your smart fridge will now tell beer companies how much Bud Light you drink?