What Vizio was Doing Behind the TV Screen (Hint: It is Creepy, Very Creepy)

What Facebook has been caught out doing is bad, really, really bad. And, there is much more to this horrible story to come out in the news, much, much more.

Meanwhile, here is a story we published in the February 20, 2017 issue of the Digital Marketing Report newsletter. I have uploaded it here as two JPEG images.

Here, though, is some of the text from the article (in case you cannot enlarge the page images enough to read them):

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent. 

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. 

What is more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs. 

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And, let us be clear: we are not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. 

The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details, for example: gender, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And, Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices. 

This is what Vizio was up to behind the screen, but what was the company telling consumers? Not much, according to the complaint. Vizio put its tracking functionality behind a setting called Smart Interactivity. But, the FTC and New Jersey AG say the generic way the company described the feature—for example, “enables program offers and suggestions”—did not give consumers the necessary heads-up to know Vizio was tracking their TV’s every flicker. Oh, and the Smart Interactivity feature did not even provide the promised “program offers and suggestions.” 

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