Tech company Vizio has been issued a fine and a deletion order by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) following the discovery that it has been gathering viewing habits of its smart TV customers without their informed consent.
Vizio, a subsidiary of Chinese giant LeEco as of last year, has been ordered to pay a total of £2.02 million in fines to the US Federal Trade Commission and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, following a joint investigation which confirmed that the company had been spying on its customers' viewing habits since 2014.
The investigation discovered that a division of the company dubbed Vizio Inscape Services, formerly Cognitive Media Services, had developed in-house content recognition software which automatically sampled a portion of the display in order to match the current image to a database of programme content - even if the content is being played from an external source, such as a non-Vizio-linked streaming service or physical media.
This data, the investigation discovered, was combined with information on nearby wireless access points - enough to pinpoint a customer's location - before being sold on to advertising companies to be aggregated with other customer data including sex, age, marital status, income, household size, education levels, and home ownership to build up a detailed pictures of Vizio's customers, and all without their informed consent.
In the court's ruling
(PDF warning), Vizio has been instructed to both pay a substantial fine and to delete all data gathered under the programme - though this does not, sadly, extend to Vizio's advertising customers, who are free to keep and exploit the data they have already purchased. It has also been warned against misrepresenting the goal of the automated content recognition system, which it had previously sold as a positive under the term 'Smart Interactivity'.
Vizio has not issued comment on the ruling, but it has complied with the court's demands by publishing information on how the system can be disabled