A reader: I own a VIZIO smart TV and one of my friends just told me that they have been tracking what I watch and sharing that info with other companies. Is that true and how do I stop it? Or is it something I should be concerned about?
Action Line: It could be true. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that VIZIO Inc. agreed to settle charges that it violated the law when it used its automated content recognition (ACR) software in more than 11 million internet-connected VIZIO televisions to determine what people watch – without their consent.
VIZIO collected unique data from each household with a VIZIO smart TV that included not only second-by-second viewing information, but also the household’s IP address, nearby access points, ZIP code, and other information. It also shared that information with other companies.
This settlement stops VIZIO’s unauthorized tracking, and makes clear that smart TV makers should get people’s consent before collecting and sharing television viewing information.
From now on, VIZIO is required to prominently disclose its data collection and sharing practices and get permission from the TV owners. The company also has to delete most of the data it already collected and put in place a privacy program that also checks its partners’ privacy practices.
So, if your VIZIO is one of those 11 million smart TVs, your information may have been shared.
Why should you care what is being shared? A lot can be learned by knowing what anyone in your household may be viewing. As noted previously, it may also have your IP address, ZIP code, access ports and other information and VIZIO shared it.
It also failed to get permission from the TV owners. It should have asked for your permission. According to the FTC, VIZIO was not doing that so the FTC stepped in. Now, VIZIO is required to display its data collection and sharing practices and it must get permission from TV owners.
If you own a VIZIO and are concerned that your data may have been shared, go to your TV settings menu and look for information about ACR.
The court order requires VIZIO to prominently disclose and obtain affirmative express consent for its data collection and sharing practices, and prohibits misrepresentations about the privacy, security, or confidentiality of consumer information they collect.
It also requires the company to delete data collected before March 1, 2016, and to implement a comprehensive data privacy program and biennial assessments of that program.
For more complete and detailed information, you can find the press release from the FTC here: fblinks.com/vizio
Remember, any time you are connected, there is a possibility that your privacy could be compromised and shared.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.