Vizio is Paying Out $2.5M For Spying on TV Owners, but You Won’t See a Cent

vizio smart tv
Paul Swansen Under Creative Commons

You might joke nervously that Big Brother is watching your every move, but in this case, it was actually watching your every movie.

Smart TV manufacturer Vizio has settled a suit claiming it collected data from its customers without permission. Then, it allegedly sold that data about user viewing habits to marketing companies.

The company owes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $1.5 million, with another $1 million due to the state of New Jersey, whose Division of Consumer Affairs Cyber Fraud Unit investigated the case.

As for the four hours you spent watching “The Golden Girls” the other night, don’t worry: It won’t be used against you. The monitoring took place between February 2014 and March 1, 2016, and the settlement requires Vizio to destroy the data it collected, both on televisions it sold that were ready to track data and those it added tracking capability to through remote updates.

How Did Vizio Get a Hold of My Netflix Queue?

Vizio didn’t just collect information from your cable service; it also grabbed info from antenna coverage, DVD players and external streaming hookups. Vizio tucked the system inside a feature called “Smart Interactivity” that specified it would deliver “program offers and suggestions,” but the FTC says it never did so — it just collected information.

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino didn’t mince words when he announced the settlement:

“New Jersey residents enjoying television in the privacy of their own homes had no idea that every show they watched, every movie they rented, every commercial they muted was being secretly tracked by the defendants who then exploited that personal information for corporate profit, as we allege,” he said.

Vizio also shared IP addresses attached to its Wi-Fi-enabled TVs with the companies it sold data to. While the TV-maker didn’t allow these third-party companies to identify customers by their IP addresses, it did provide detailed demographic advice about them to help the marketing firms conduct detailed tracking, according to a scathing blog post from the FTC.

My TV is On Right Now. Is Someone Watching Me Watch It?

No. At least, not Vizio. Who knows if anyone else is watching you — that’s a personal problem.

As a result of the suit, Vizio must establish and uphold a privacy policy, which requires users to expressly agree to sharing their viewing information with the company. Vizio owners may have noticed a box pop up on their screen this winter asking them if they wanted to participate in such a program.

Dear Vizio, Where is My Money?

While many FTC investigations are tied to a class-action lawsuit initiated by a consumer, this one is not. So while the plaintiffs — the FTC and the state of New Jersey — get the big payout, Vizio Smart TV owners will receive zero dollars.

You may be disappointed to learn that after years of swiping your information, the TV-maker doesn’t have to pay up. But at least your Lifetime and HGTV marathon history can stay within the walls of your own home.

Your Turn: Do you think Vizio owes consumers for selling data about their viewing habits without permission?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.