Vizio will pay $2.2M fine for snooping on private smart TV viewing habits

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Owners of more than 11 million Vizio smart TVs unknowingly had their programming preferences tracked and personal information shared, prompting a lawsuit from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that has slapped the American electronics maker with a $2.2 million fine.

The settlement between Vizio and the FTC was revealed in a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The FTC charged Vizio with unfair tracking, deceptive omission, and deceptive representation regarding smart interactivity.

The FTC alleges that Vizio began tracking user viewing habits in February 2014 through automated content recognition (ACR) software, which captured second-by-second information from what a user was watching. Information from cable TV, streaming, physical discs and other viewing habits was then set back to Vizio who sold it to third parties for data analysis.

Vizio also included personally identifiable demographic information, including sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value.

The FTC determined that Vizio’s tracking was done without the informed consent of television owners, making it unfair and deceptive. It was found to be in violation of the FTC Act and New Jersey consumer protection laws.

Under the terms of the settlement, Vizio will delete all data collected before March of 2016, and it will pay $1.5 million to the FTC, along with another $700,000 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

The lawsuit isn’t the first time smart TVs have been accused of snooping on their owners: In 2015, Samsung revealed in fine print that its own connected HDTV sets were constantly listening and could capture private conversations — and even pass them on to third parties.