Vizio, a consumer electronic company known for its affordable televisions, recently came under fire for its data collection methods. A feature in the televisions, Smart Interactivity, collects information about the user’s viewing habits and remains active unless you opt out of it. Vizio then shares the data it collects with third parties, such as advertisers and content providers. However, Vizio argues they never shared any information that would lead the third parties to identify the user. It is important to note that Vizio does not consider IP addresses to be personal information.
Two federal lawsuits were filed in California against Vizio in November of 2015, one in Northern California and the other in Central California. The suits allege that tracking violates CA consumer laws because private information is disclosed without permission of the viewer. While purchasers can opt out of the data collection, they are not provided with adequate disclosures on the information being shared about them in the time they did not opt out. Both lawsuits were mainly concerned with Vizio violating the Video Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits “any company engaged in rental, sale or delivery of audio visual content and not necessarily just video tapes—from divulging any personally identifiable information about its customer to a third party, except where the customer has clearly consented to such data sharing.” Vizio consumers never consented to the data sharing. In addition to Vizio being named as the defendant, the lawsuits also went after the company that provided the software to track users.
The new year brought good news for Vizio. Judge Beeler, in the Northern California lawsuit against Vizio, approved the order for the companies to use mediation to resolve their dispute. Since these lawsuits quickly became class action lawsuits, there are hundreds of thousands of people demanding answers from the television company.
With the majority of the televisions becoming smart televisions, we urge consumers to be careful in protecting their privacy. Not only are smart televisions capable of tracking your viewing habits, they can also track your cell phone number if that cell phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi as the television. While Vizio did not directly respond to the lawsuits, they continue to state that users can opt out of the Smart Interactivity feature.