Tech Lawsuit: Vizio Smart TVs Track and Sell Data without Consent

Tech Lawsuit: Vizio Smart TVs Track and Sell Data without Consent
Image: Pixabay
November 18, 2015

Vizio has found itself in the middle of a lawsuit that claims the company's smart TVs collect and transmit viewer information without their knowledge.

The Smart Interactivity feature sounds mundane, but unless it is turned off, the TV will track what you've viewed and attach it to your IP address which is then matched to your gender, age, income and interests using a third-party data broker. All this data is then sold to advertisers who track you using all the devices connected to that IP address.

The feature is turned on by default and the lawsuit says that users have to find their way through obscure setting menus that do a poor job of explaining how the information is used.

In a statement to ProPublica, a news outlet that reported on the data collection, Vizio said non-personally identifiable information is shared with select partners who can use it to make better informed decisions regarding content production, programming and advertising.

A lawsuit was filed in California less than two weeks after the story was published.

Smart TVs have been under scrutiny for some time now as makers try to make some advertising dollars by selling certain information to outside companies. The difference it seems as TV owners have to opt-in to those features rather than opt-out. ProPublica also notes that other TV brands don't seem to provide the ability for advertisers to reach people on their other connected devices.

According to Vizio's privacy policy, the company doesn't promise to encrypt the IP addresses before sharing them either. If someone actually wanted to read the privacy policy, the lawsuit claims that it lives deep within sub-menus and is displayed on a tiny fraction of the screen. Owners will have to stand inches away to read dense legal jargon.

Lawsuit plaintiff Palma Reed said she bought two Vizio smart TVs and says that at no time did Vizio disclose to her that the tracking software was installed and operating. Had she known about the software, she wouldn't have purchased the TVs.

In February, Samsung got a lot of heat when it was discovered that the TV could collect personal information from the microphone. The TV comes with a voice recognition feature which requires some voice commands be transmitted to a third-party service that converts speech to text. Samsung can also retain these voice commands and texts to improve the technology. But it isn't just simple voice commands that get collected. Anyone talking too closely to their TVs could have their information captured and transmitted.

LG changed its privacy policy to require viewing, voice and device data collection after it was discovered that the TVs were collecting data even after the feature was turned off. While owners don't have to agree to the policy, if they don't, many of their smart TV features won't work.