Smart TV vendor Vizio fined $2.2M for spying on 11 million customers

Pierluigi Paganini February 08, 2017

Smart TV vendor Vizio makes the headlines because it has been caught while secretly collecting consumers’ data through over 11 Million devices.

IoT devices are privileged vectors for surveillance activities, mobile devices, gaming console, smartphone and even smart TV could be used to spy on users.

Now one of the world’s biggest smart TV makers Vizio makes the headlines because it has been caught while secretly collecting consumers’ data through over 11 Million smart TVs and then selling them to third-parties without any consent.

The company was discovered and fined for this illegal practice, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that Vizio had spied on its customers using the Smart Interactivity feature of Vizio smart TVs.

The company avoided to comment the accusation and agreed to pay a $2.2 Million fine to settle the lawsuit. According to FTC, Vizio installed a data tracking software in its smart TV models to collect viewing habits of 11 million customers.

The data tracking software implements an automatic content recognition (ACR) algorithm, it is able to discover which program the customers are watching by comparing a selection of on-screen pixels to a database of known TV programs (i.e. movies and television shows).

“To settle the case, Vizio has agreed to stop unauthorized tracking, to prominently disclose its TV viewing collection practices, and to get consumers’ express consent before collecting and sharing viewing information,” the FTC says. 

“In addition, the company must delete most of the data it collected and put a privacy program in place that evaluates Vizio’s practices and its partners.”

Vizio also collected other information with its devices, including the IP address of the smart Tv, nearby access points, and zip code. The company then shared collected data with third-party advertising companies.

“According to the agencies’ complaint, starting in February 2014, VIZIO, Inc. and an affiliated company have manufactured VIZIO smart TVs that capture second-by-second information about video displayed on the smart TV, including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices.” reads the FTC.

“In addition, VIZIO facilitated appending specific demographic information to the viewing data, such as sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value, the agencies allege. VIZIO sold this information to third parties, who used it for various purposes, including targeting advertising to consumers across devices, according to the complaint.”

According to the complaint filed by the US Federal Trade Commission, the company has benefited from this huge amount of data by selling it to advertising companies.

The Smart Tv maker has now agreed to stop unauthorized tracking, informing its customers of any collection practice. In the future, it will request customers consent before collecting or sharing data on its viewing habits.

Vizio Smart TV owners need to check their device HDTV Settings. If the “Automated content recognition (ACR)” feature is enabled then they have to follow these steps:

  • Open Setting Menu and Select System
  • Select Reset & Admin
  • Select Smart Interactivity.
  • Press arrow to change setting to off

Smart Interactivity feature of Vizio smart TV

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Smart TV, privacy)

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