LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — New Jersey officials say Irvine-based television manufacturer Vizio and a subsidiary will pay $2.5 million to settle allegations that they surreptitiously tracked consumers’ viewing habits and sold the information to marketing companies and data brokers.
The settlement announced Monday ends parallel investigations conducted by the state and the Federal Trade Commission into the use of data-collecting technology on Vizio’s smart TVs.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Vizio installed software on 11 million consumer TVs to collect viewing data “without consumers’ knowledge or consent.”
“Vizio deceptively omitted information about its data collection and sharing program,” FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen wrote in a statement Monday. “Evidence shows that consumers do not expect televisions to collect and share information about what they watch.”
The FTC will get $1.5 million and the state will receive $1 million. The state will suspend $300,000 in civil penalties included in its settlement amount if the Vizio complies with the agreement.
“It wasn’t just your viewing habits,” said John M. Simpson, a privacy project director with Consumer Watchdog. “They were combining all of this with all sorts of other info about you – household income, sex, marital status – a really invasive picture was being put together.”
According to legal documents, Irvine, California-based Vizio and a subsidiary manufactured smart TVs that captured second-by-second information about video displayed on the sets.
“To you, to me, that’s a lot of money,” Simpson said of the fine. “To these companies, that’s pocket change. I think people should be very concerned about it.”
The data was sold to marketing companies and data brokers to measure viewing habits, such as the effectiveness of ad campaigns.
People with Vizio smart TVs can get more information on whether their viewing data is being collected by going to the settings menu on their TV and searching for Automated Content Recognition (ACR).
In a statement Vizio said, in part: “The ACR program never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information such as name or contact information.”
Vizio is now required to ask for permission to collect your data. It was also directed to delete any information collected prior to March 2016.
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