Vizio to send class notices through the TVs that spied on viewers | Cyber Security

In a sign that we’re actually all living in a science fiction novel, millions of smart may soon be forced to admit to viewers that they have been spying on them.

TV manufacturer Vizio is working on the feature to help satisfy a class action suit against it by disgruntled customers.

Back in 2015, investigative journalism site ProPublica revealed that Vizio’s smart TVs were just a little too smart for their own good. The TVs included a feature – switched on by default in 11 million devices – called ‘Smart Interactivity’, which tracked its customers’ viewing habits.

Vizio’s Inscape data services operation collected data including snippets of the programs that the viewers watched, along with the date, time, channel, and whether they were viewed live, or as recordings. It also gathered data on over-the-top services such as Netflix, along with data from DVDs and even streaming devices. In short, if you watched it on a Vizio TV, Vizio knew about it.

The company then linked that data to your IP address and sold the whole package to advertisers, who could then combine it with information about other devices associated with that IP address. So if, as most of us do, you connected your phone or your home computer to your home Wi-Fi network, advertisers could use your viewing data to serve you ads via those devices too.

The manufacturer, which was preening itself for an IPO at the time, argued that laws preventing cable TV companies from selling their customers’ viewing data didn’t apply to its business. In fact, it doubled down by using data brokers to append more information to its customers’ viewing data, including sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value. It then promoted “highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy” as a way to boost its margins for investors.

The company’s frankly anti-privacy stance got it into hot water. It was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, which along with the New Jersey Attorney General made it agree to a $2.2m settlement in February 2017. Alongside the hefty fine, the federal court order forced the company to delete data collected before 1 March 2016, implement a privacy program, and to get explicit consent for its data slurping.