FTC to explore consumer protection issues related to new technologies

The Federal Trade Commission says it plans to explore consumer protection issues raised by new technologies, including "smart TVs."

"In 2016, virtually all television delivery systems - smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, apps, and even old-fashioned set-top boxes- track consumer viewing habits, and sometimes in new and unexpected ways," the FTC stated on its web site last Thursday.

The agency plans to conduct a seminar addressing questions including how much consumers understood about tracking of their TV-viewing, how the ad industry was using data about the programs people watched, and how consumers' privacy could be protected.

Smart TV manufacturer Vizio is currently facing a federal lawsuit over allegations of sharing information about consumers' viewing histories with ad tech companies and data brokers. That lawsuit followed shortly after ProPublica reported that Vizio tracked television viewers by default, and then shared data with companies that sent targeted ads to people's phones, tablets and other devices.

Separately, the FTC plans to consider privacy issues raised by drones, and questions raised by the growing problem of "ransomware."

"With alarming frequency, ransomware hackers are sneaking into consumer and business computers, encrypting files containing photos, documents, and other important data, and then demanding a ransom in exchange for the key needed to decrypt the files," the agency stated. "Consumers, businesses, and government agencies are falling prey to these schemes, including hospitals whose servers may contain sensitive patient data.''

Meanwhile, it had been reported that Vizio's Smart TVs tracked users' viewing habits and shared them with advertisers.

The tracking, which Vizio termed ''Smart Interactivity'' was turned on by default for the over 10 million Smart TVs that the company had sold. Customers who did not want it had to opt-out.

In a statement, Vizio said customers' ''non-personal identifiable information may be shared with select partners to permit these companies to make, for example, better-informed decisions regarding content production, programming and advertising.''

In a related development less than a week after the FTC warned app developers to stop using code that listened for inaudible sound to track mobile owners' TV watching habits, the Indian firm that marketed the product told Forbes that it was killing the software.

However, according to Silverpush product manager Piyush Bhatt, it was not ending the Unique Audio Beacon service due to FTC warning, or due to the many privacy concerns raised over the last year. It was simply a ''business decision''.

''We are moving into new areas of growth and profitability,'' said Bhatt, messaging over Skype chat.