Monday, November 23, 2015 by Julie Wilson
It wasn’t long ago that the notion of TVs capable of spying on its viewers was considered but a mere conspiracy theory. Today, however, the concept is well known, and arguably, even accepted. However, one woman decided to fight back against a popular multi-billion dollar electronics company for its invasive spying.
A California woman filed a lawsuit against Vizio on November 13, claiming its Smart TVs track users’ viewing patterns, which the company uses to sell personal information to third party advertisers, reports Courthouse News.
In the lawsuit, plaintiff Palma Reed claims that Vizio colludes with co-defendant Cognitive Media Networks to “secretly install invasive tracking software” on its Smart TVs, recording and cataloging what viewers are watching in an effort to develop a database containing specific information about households and, possibly, even individuals.
Vizio then sells users’ personal information to advertisers.
Vizio Smart TVs steal personal viewer info before streaming to marketing database
Vizio calls its spying feature “Smart Interactivity,” which is activated by default upon purchase, reports ProPublica, adding that the electronics company has sold more than 10 million Smart TVs.
Reed’s lawsuit comes a few days after ProPublica published a report detailing how Vizio’s spy TVs track users without their consent.
“Vizio’s technology works by analyzing snippets of the shows you’re watching, whether on traditional television or streaming Internet services such as Netflix. Vizio determines the date, time and channel of programs — as well as whether you watched them live or recorded. The viewing patterns are then connected your IP address — the Internet address that can be used to identify every device in a home, from your TV to a phone.
IP addresses can increasingly be linked to individuals. Data broker Experian, for instance, offers a ‘data enrichment’ service that provide ‘hundreds of attributes’ such as age, profession and ‘wealth indicators’ tied to a particular IP address.”
Smart TVs know your age, wealth and profession!
Vizio doesn’t encrypt people’s IP addresses before sharing them, either.
The plaintiff’s lawsuit asserts that Vizio is violating the Video Privacy Protection Act, which prevents cable TV providers and video rental companies from selling information about their customers’ viewing habits.
However, Vizio claims the law doesn’t apply to them, but instead insists their spying software provides “highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy.”
The company says it needs the spyware to compete financially with other TV manufacturers.
Vizio shares customers’ IP address to advertisers without encryption
In her lawsuit, Reed says that Vizio “continuously scans consumers’ home computer networks,” capturing information used to identify individuals in the household watching TV,” Courthouse News reports.
“That is, although defendants know someone is watching a particular show or movie, they require additional information to assign the viewing information to a specific person,” according to the 30-page complaint.
Reed also alleges that Vizio “contracts with data brokers to obtain more personally identifying information” from households and individuals.
“With the enhanced data, Vizio now knows that it was Jane Doe at 123 Main Street that watched ‘Scandal’ on a Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, with an IP address of 18.104.22.168 and a Wi-Fi router MAC address of 04:bd:88:7a:1c:c1,” states the complaint.
Vizio then sells that very specific information to advertisers. Aware that consumers would object to the intrusive spyware, Reed says Vizio went to “great lengths” to conceal its settings from users under difficult-to-access menus, preventing them from discovering or disabling the software.
Reed “seeks class certification, an injunction, and statutory and punitive damages for false advertising, fraud, negligent omission, unjust enrichment and violations of the Video Privacy Protection Act and California business laws.”