GETTY • BBC
You television could be watching – and recording – your every viewing habit
Watching TV in the comfort of your home might not be as private as you first thought.
A hugely-successful television brand has been caught watching and recording its customers' viewing habits.
The data on TV viewers' habits was then sold onto advertisers and other third-party firms.
Vizio has now been fined $2.2 million (some £1.8million) after a US consumer watchdog discovered the company was using content recognition software to track viewers without asking for their permission.
The sophisticated tracking technology, dubbed Automated Content Recognition, ACR, is able to recognise what is being displayed on the television screen at any given moment.
Vizio gathered "as many as 100 billion data points a day" from its television customers
Content tracked included all of those shown on satellite channels, including adult stations, and even DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games are believed to have been monitored and stored.
Vizio gathered "as many as 100 billion data points a day from millions of TVs".
The technology company has sold more than 11 million smart TVs since 2010. It does not currently sell its TVs in the UK.
It is believed Vizio introduced its tracking software on televisions in 2014, although some older models may have also received the technology during software updates.
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Using its software – and internet-connected TVs – it's alleged that Vizio was able to see what was being viewed on a second-by-second basis.
"Consumers didn't know that while they were watching their TVs, Vizio was watching them," the US Federal Trade Commission, FTC, confirmed.
"The generic way the company described that feature – for example 'enables program offers and suggestions' – didn’t give consumers the necessary heads-up to know that Vizio was tracking their TV’s every flicker."
"Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends," the FTC added.
"The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household."
In a statement, Vizio said it was now “leading the way” on getting consumer consent for data collection.
Vizio has also addressed the concerns by updating online and onscreen disclosures, informing users about viewing data collection, reminding users of the option to turn this feature off or on, and educating users about the purpose and nature of its viewing data program.
To settle the case, Vizio has also agreed to stop unauthorised tracking, to prominently disclose its TV viewing collection practices, and to get consumers’ express consent before collecting and sharing viewing information.
In addition, the company must delete most of the data it collected and put a privacy program in place that evaluates Vizio’s practices and its partners.
The order also includes a $1.5 million payment to the FTC and an additional civil penalty to New Jersey for a total of $2.2 million.