Privacy Law

Lawsuits say Vizio smart TV tracking violates federal video-rental statute

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Unbeknownst to many consumers who purchase Vizio smart televisions, the TVs are collecting data on their household viewing habits unless buyers actively opt out.

Since the software also collects information about other devices linked into the home’s computer system, it may not be difficult for third parties to which Vizio sells the data to identify the household by name using Internet Protocol addresses, according to Consumer Reports and TechHive.

For those reasons, that data provision violates a federal statute, two federal lawsuits filed last week in California contend.

The Legal Information Institute provides a copy of the statute, which was enacted in the 1980s in an effort to prevent video-rental companies from sharing information about customers’ viewing habits with third parties without permission.

Additionally, the suits say, the tracking violates California consumer laws–both because private information is disclosed without permission and because purchasers are not provided with adequate disclosures explaining the information that is being revealed.

Filed in the Northern (PDF) and Central (PDF) districts of California, the suits seek class action status.

In addition to Vizio, they name as a defendant the company that provided the software used in the television-set tracking.

Vizio didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by Consumer Reports.

A recent revision to the company’s privacy policy notes that “tailored ads based upon your viewing history may be displayed on the smartphones or other devices that share an IP address or other identifiers with your Vizio television, unless you have disabled Smart Interactivity.”

Related coverage: “Be careful what you say when your smart TV is on, Samsung warns customers”

Pro Publica: “Own a Vizio Smart TV? It’s Watching You”

See also:

Risk Assessment/Security & Hactivism (Ars Technica): “Man-in-the-middle attack on Vizio TVs coughs up owners’ viewing habits”

Ad Law Access (Kelley Drye & Warren): “Applying the Video Privacy Protection Act to Online Streaming”

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