Chances are if you’ve purchased a Vizio smart TV within the last several years, your TV has been automatically tracking your viewing habits and collecting personal data without your consent.
News broke earlier this week that the California-based TV manufacturer agreed to pay $2.2 million in settlement charges after a complaint was filed by the Federal Trade Commission and the State of New Jersey. Not only did Vizio agree to pay out, but the TV company also agreed to now prominently disclose how and when it collects the data from TVs purchased.
For the last two years, the company has been using a software called “ACR,” also known as automated content recognition on the TVs being sold. The software was put in place to capture pixels displayed while your TV is turned on. From there, the ACR sends the data to the company’s servers where the pixels are then compared to their database of TV shows, movies and commercials. The software even has the capability to collect information such as WiFi access points, the strength of your WiFi signal and even IP addresses.
The complaint filed alleges that information from over 100 billion data points per day were collected from over 10 million TV sets. This means the company not only had access to information such as what type of content was being watched on your TV set, but also the duration of time you watched it each day.
While Vizio planned on holding on to this information indefinitely, there’s been a stipulated federal court order put in place that is requiring the company to delete all data collected before March of 2016.
According to BuzzFeed, Vizio’s general counsel Jerry Huang reassured customers that the ACR program never paired viewing data with personal information that was identifiable, such as names or contact information. Huang also stated that he is aware that “all smart TV makers should get people’s consent before collecting and sharing viewing information and Vizio is now leading the way.”
The bottom line, according to the FTC’s complaint, is that Vizio didn’t make clear to their customers that they intended to collect data from them. The collection was turned on by default and didn’t give customers the opportunity to opt out. According to BuzzFeed, a key part of the complaint is that Vizio promised customers recommendations based on the data collected, but never provided the information to the owners of older Vizio TVs.
Now, if you own a Vizio smart TV that has been purchased anytime from February 2014 to the present, there’s a way to disable the ACR software.
Go to your TV’s Menu, then click on Settings, then Smart Interactivity (or any option with Automated Content Recognition) and select to turn it off.