Electronics company Vizio doesn't want its customers to believe it ran a giant spying operation, but the company's surrender to a recent lawsuit suggests otherwise.
Vizio agreed to pay $2.2 million on Monday to settle a lawsuit brought against them by the New Jersey government and the Federal Trade Commission. In doing so, they agreed to stop fighting the charge that the company "installed software on its TVs to collect viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs without consumers’ knowledge or consent."
Vizio and "an affiliated company" built their smart TVs to spy on whatever their customers were watching, starting in Febuary, 2014, according to the complaint filed. They did this with a pixel-reading technology that matched pixels on customer TVs to pixels of whatever show was in their database — live shows, shows recorded for future watching, movies, whatever.
By taking this data and matching it to data about their customers, the complaint alleges that Vizio took information about customers' "sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level" and more of those who watched particular shows, and sold that information to advertisers. That type of demographic information is incredibly valuable to advertisers. Advertisers already know the demographic they're after. This information tells them when their potential customers will be relaxed, sitting on a couch, and ready to be pitched on a product.
Vizio still contends that its "program never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information, and the commission did not allege or contend otherwise."
Technically true! But it's difficult to argue that information about sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, etc., when combined, is not identifiable information.
Now, Vizio will have to get consent from its customers before it is allowed to store and sell their data. Data taken before March 1, 2016, must also be erased.