Vizio fined for collecting viewing data from millions of TVs without authorisation

Chinese UHD television sets maker Vizio has been penalised for keeping tabs on TV viewers without their consent.

The Federal Trade Commission said in a complaint that Vizio was able to capture second-by-second information about what viewers were watching on their Vizio TVs. The monitoring was not limited to built-in smart TV apps, and included video from cable set-top boxes, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts.

The company also recorded and tracked the IP addresses of the TVs, according to the FTC complaint.

Vizio, which Chinese giant LeEco acquired last year, will have to pay $2.2 million to settle claims that it collected viewing data from 11 million TVs without their owners' consent.

The settlement, announced yesterday, would be split between the FTC and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which joined the complaint.

Additionally, a federal court ordered Vizio to delete any data it collected before March 2016, prominently disclose its data collection and sharing practices, and obtain permission from owners if it wanted to track them.

"The data generated when you watch television can reveal a lot about you and your household," FTC Division of Privacy and Identity Protection attorney Kevin Moriarty wrote in a blog post. "So, before a company pulls up a chair next to you and starts taking careful notes on everything you watch (and then shares it with its partners), it should ask if that's O.K. with you. Vizio wasn't doing that, and the FTC stepped in."

According to commentators, though the penalty might seem light, the damage to the Vizio brand may be irreparable.

The court case was initiated against Vizio and subsidiary Inscape Services by the FTC, New Jersey attorney general and the director of the state's Division of Consumer Affairs.