Digital Privacy: Is Your TV Watching You?

Televisions: they’re in every household in the multiples. They’re a source of entertainment and enjoyment. For a majority of Americans, the things we consume on our televisions make us laugh, make us cry, and make us happy. But is your TV watching you as well? The television manufacturer VIZIO Inc. has recently become under fire for privacy violations that could mean that they are.

In 2014 VIZIO began manufacturing what are now called “smart TVs” that connect to the internet and allow the consumer to easily access things like YouTube, Netflix and much more from their TVs. The company also offered an update called “Smart Interactivity” that would automatically recommend content for the consumer to watch, based on what they watched in the past. This all sounds great, but what information did they need to accomplish this, how were they able to gather this information, and where did all of this information go?

The Legal Implications of Smart Interactivity

The smart interactivity that the TV offers requires VIZIO to collect detailed information about its consumers watching habits on a second-by-second basis. On top of that, the smart TV also coupled with the IP addresses of other internet enabled devices in the household to analyze consumer behavior. If an online ad on your iPhone led you to watch a show, your smart TV knew about it. The manufacturer further supplemented this information with demographic data about its users, including sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value.

All of this information was then sold to advertisers who then used it to conduct advertising across all devices. According to the complaint that started this investigation, VIZIO didn’t inform its customers that they would be tracking their information and selling it to advertisers.

The TV manufacturer took a $1.5 million settlement deal with Federal Trade Commission and paid another $1 million to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs for its deception. VIZIO was also ordered to delete all the data they had collected thus far and is now required to provide its consumers with updated disclaimers.