By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
We are living in a time where technology is moving forward at a mind-boggling pace. One of these signs is that our TVs are literally spying on us, and one manufacturer, Vizio, is ready to admit it…but probably only because there is a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit forcing it to do so.
In 2015, ProPublica, an investigative site, revealed that Vizio televisions were extremely smart…so smart, in fact, that they tracked the viewing habits of their customers. Some of the data that was collected included the programs the viewers were watching, the time, date, channel, and even if they were watching DVDs or streaming services, like Netflix. Once Vizio had this information, it connected it to the viewer’s IP address and then sold the info to advertisers, who then used it to target relevant ads on the user’s other devices.
Vizio claims that it was operating within the law and said that what it was doing was perfectly legal. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disagreed, and the company was hit with a settlement in 2017 for $2.2 million. Vizio was also forced to delete all of the data that it had collected before March 1, 2016.
This isn’t the only legal action Vizio has seen for this, either—and it makes the $2.2 million look like chump change. A class action suit has just reached a $17 million preliminary settlement.
The notice for this suit has been sent out to Vizio’s customers; however, incidents like these are rarely if ever announced on television, radio, and newspapers, which means that it can be difficult for customers who have been affected to find out that it even exists.
While this clearly isn’t the ending that Vizio had hoped for, it is a good example of what can happen when a company tries to turn its Internet of Things (IoT) data into money. Selling the personal information that companies collect can turn a customer into a product, which ultimately violates their privacy…meanwhile, they are paying for the privilege of using the service or product.
There are many companies out there that are still creating a business model to accommodate the IoT industry. Things, however, may soon change. Regulations have been put in place by the state of California to help protect IoT consumers’ rights, although the bill missed many necessary details to adequately protect users. But it’s a start, and it shows the desire among those in power to regulate an industry that is exploding.
As for the case of Vizio, it turns out that it’s not ‘smart’ for companies to abuse consumers’ rights and sell their private data without the proper consent. If you’re concerned about companies abusing your rights and selling your private data, take steps to protect yourself and download Hotspot Shield for free. Hotspot Shield switches out your IP address to keep you anonymous online.