Vizio Settles Watching Behavior Tracking Lawsuit

February 07, 2017
By: Steve Anderson

Vizio televisions are often a great choice for those looking for a bargain option to upgrade a home theater. There are often better quality systems out there, but these can run into much higher costs than Vizio systems often do. However, some may be reconsidering a Vizio purchase with word of its new settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)).

The settlement requires Vizio to not only pay $2.2 million, but also to stop trying to gather information about customers' television viewing habits without the direct consent of said viewers. A lawsuit filed by both the FTC and the state of New Jersey alleges that Vizio built systems into its television sets—over 11 million such sets at last report—in a bid to gather “...highly-specific, second-by-second information about television viewing.”

Reports suggest that Vizio then took that information and added it to information from another company to produce some almost shockingly detailed information about television viewing, down to points like age, income, sex and more. Vizio is also required to delete the data already obtained before March 1, 2017.

Vizio doesn't have to admit any kind of fault as part of this settlement, and notes that the settlement has essentially established what Vizio general counsel Jerry Huang (News - Alert) called “...a new standard for best industry privacy practices for the collection and analysis of data collected from today's Internet-connected televisions and other home devices.”

Perhaps the big problem here is that Vizio was long the bargain alternative in televisions; a quick-and-dirty look at Best Buy (News - Alert)'s sale ad for the week reveals that Vizio's 54.6 inch 4K television sells for about $300 less than a comparable 55 inch 4K television from LG. There are other differences, sure, but the key takeaway should be that Vizio is the bargain entry point. This in turn means that bargain hunters were basically being lured in by lower prices to be used as fodder for a massive data mining operation, and all without anyone's knowledge or consent. There are some that would call that outright exploitative, and may well color future buying decisions, crippling the Vizio brand. Who wants to buy a television that may be reporting content choices back to its bosses?

I'm concerned about what this settlement will mean—how many Vizio features won't be accessible unless the user agrees to sign his or her data privacy away?—but it's certainly a step in the right direction. Information gathering should never be done without consent, and consent should come with benefits beyond getting a television for a price somewhat lower than comparable market releases.




Edited by Alicia Young