Smart TVs spy on users, company sells data to advertisers

We’re all crazy about smart devices and, if you’re like the many gadget-obsessed techies out there, you probably own a few already. Has it ever crossed your mind that your latest acquisition may be an open invitation for a hacker into your home or for companies to collect information about your daily activities?

This is what happened in the US to 11 million owners of Vizio smart TVs who unknowingly let the company invade their privacy by collecting data about their TV habits, according to a complaint filed by the FDS and the New Jersey Attorney General. The company made sure the tracking software was installed remotely on older models as well, and was generally disguised as “Smart Interactivity”. The function allegedly “enables program offers and suggestions”

Vizio then gave away user IPs and sold demographics and other information, including household size and home ownership, to advertisers and other third-parties.

“On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content,” reads the FTC website. “What’s more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs.”

The US government has confirmed Vizio violated the FTC act and the court decided Vizio must “prominently disclose and obtain affirmative express consent for its data collection and sharing practices”. As a result, the company accepted a settlement by agreeing to stop tracking viewing histories, request user consent for data collection, delete the illegally collected information and implement a privacy program. Moreover, Vizio has to pay $2.2 million as a penalty to the FCT and the New Jersey Attorney General.

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