The concept of companies watching what you are doing on electronic devices isn’t new. The concept of them taking that data, made anonymous, and selling it to advertisers isn’t, either. But in 2014, Vizio was caught doing something worse, and subsequently sued for it. Vizio was caught not only watching what end users were doing while watching TV on their Smart TVs, they were recording what was being done, second by second, and sharing information such as the end user’s IP Address, MAC Address, and other identifying demographics with their advertisers.
Well, today they settled with the FTC for $2.2M, but not for what you would think. The settlement wasn’t because of the egregious spying and selling of data based on that, but rather their lack of transparency in doing so. They didn’t make it clear enough in the Terms of Service, which are rarely ever read by the layperson, what their intentions were. Unlike other companies like Samsung who spelled it out in ToS, Vizio made no indication that this was happening in the Smart TV software, nor did they provide a way to turn it off, and they then gathered information based on IP address of other habits, like where you went shopping on your phone, what games you played on your computer, and so on.
My thoughts on this are two fold. First, holy hell they went WAY too far going so far as to record the IP Address of the Internet connection and then monitoring what ALL Internet Traffic was doing at any particular household, but secondly I’m not surprised. With the proliferation of a connected everything, smarter devices, and people’s desire to have better working technology that improves their life, this kind of data mining will continue. Thankfully this FTC settlement sets something of a standard to which all Smart TV manufacturers will have to contend with now, and shows that the consumer’s personally identifiable information should not be collected in such a manner, and that companies and technology doing this needs to be up front and open with the consumer about it.
What are your thoughts? Will you never buy a Vizio because of this, or do you think that they and the rest of the TV industry have learned the lesson and things will be better? I’d love to hear you sound off in the comments below or on Twitter, you can find me @geekindad.