Vizio, the television manufacturer that’s now owned by the cash-strapped LeEco, is in a bad spot with the FTC over some unsavory data tracking habits. They’ve been hit with a $2.2 million fine over their shady tactics, which is bound to hurt LeEco further up the food chain.
What could a TV manufacturer do to warrant a heavy fine like this? How about tracking things you’re watching on your screen (including shows and movies from other set-top boxes, cable boxes, and the like) and selling them to advertisers, all while not telling customers that this was happening.
The issue dates back to 2014 when Vizio sold smart TVs that would track content for users, then use that tracking to recommend new content. That on its own was fine, but the setting for toggling those recommendations also controlled the “sell to advertisers” part, and Vizio wasn’t clear on that at all. The tracking would capture a few pixels from the screen of the television to check what you were watching against a media database, then offloaded to advertisers. Some of the information sold to advertisers included the age and sex of viewers, but some other more personal stuff like income and education levels, as well as marital status.
This move probably isn’t going to help Vizio’s reputation with the average consumer, but at least they’ll be more careful and clear about what kinds of information they’re gleaning from your TV in the future. At least, I would hope that would be the case.