Vizio Fined After Tracking and Selling Customers’ Personal Data

February 9, 2017

C_osettIn this digitally driven age, personal privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Along with social networks and websites that track users, many electronic devices also pay close attention to their owners’ personal habits. And in at least one recent case, sometimes people don’t even know they’re being watched by their possessions.

That’s why the Federal Trade Commission recently slapped the television maker Vizio with a $2.2 million fine. According to investigators, the company installed software that allowed it to collect up-to-the-minute data on what was playing on their customers’ smart TV screens. Whether that video came from a cable box, streaming service or regular broadcast, Vizio could see it and subsequently match it with the user’s personal information. The company then sold the data to third parties who used it for targeted advertising.

Besides the fine, the FTC also ruled that Vizio must delete all data collected before March 2016. What’s more, the company must receive permission from customers before they share any information with outside entities. While many people would likely deny Vizio the right to track their data, it’s possible that others wouldn’t mind if they could get a better deal because of it. “Should there be two versions of a device, one that has tracking and another that does not?” said security expert Stephen Cobb. “The latter would presumably be priced higher because the manufacturer would lose the revenue from selling the tracking data.” Regardless of whether this eventually becomes an option for consumers, right now people should continue to be careful about what they allow their devices to see.

Questions:

 

  1. Would consumers be interested in purchasing a TV that tracks data but also costs less than a standard model?
  2. Should Vizio face criminal charges for tracking customers’ data without their knowledge?

Sources: Alex Fitzpatrick, “Own a Vizio TV? Change This Setting to Protect Your Privacy,” Time, February 7, 2016; Gary Robbins, “Why Would Vizio Wants Its TV Sets to Spy on Their Owners?” Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2016. Photo by C_osett.

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