Privacy

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
class action, iot, smart tvs, video privacy, wiretap act

Companies:
vizio



Vizio Fails To Dodge Class Action Over Its Spying 'Smart' Televisions

from the watching-you-watching-me dept

So if you hadn't been paying attention, most of the "smart" products you buy are anything but intelligent when it comes to your privacy and security. Whether it's your refrigerator leaking your gmail credentials or your new webcam being hacked in minutes for use in massive new DDoS attacks, the so-called "smart" home is actually quite idiotic. So-called smart-televisions have been particularly problematic, whether that has involved companies failing to encrypt sensitive data, to removing features if you refuse to have your daily viewing habits measured and monetized.

Last month Vizio joined this not-so-distinguished club when it was discovered that the company's TVs had been spying on users for the last several years. Vizio's $2.2 million settlement with the FTC indicates that the company at no time thought it might be a good idea to inform customers this was happening. The snooping was part of a supposed "Smart Interactivity" feature deployed in 2014 that claimed to provide users with programming recommendations, but never actually did so. In short, it wasn't so much what Vizio was doing, it was the fact the company tried to bullshit its way around it.

And while Vizio may have settled the FTC investigation into its snooping televisions, the company now faces an additional class action after a California federal judge late last week denied the company's motion to dismiss. The court ruled that Vizio customers' claimed injuries were "sufficiently concrete" to bring suit under the Video Privacy Protection and Wiretap Acts:

"Congress has determined that the interception of a person’s electronic communications and the unauthorized disclosure of a person’s video viewing history are sufficiently harmful to warrant private causes of action," and in response to Vizio's contention that the information it allegedly discloses is not personally identifiable, adds, "Taken to its logical conclusion, Defendants’ argument absurdly implies that a court could never enter judgment against a plaintiff on a VPPA claim if it found that the disclosed information was not within the statutory definition of personally identifiable information; instead, it would have to remand or dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction."

U.S. District Court judge Josephine Staton also supported the lawsuit's claim of "highly offensive" conduct by Vizio by reiterating that the "Smart Interactivity" feature that did the spying was difficult to disable (impossible, initially), and was often reset after every Vizio firmware update:

"Plaintiffs point to a report by the security software company Avast, which concluded that Smart Interactivity’s “off” function was not operational “for months, if not years.” So, even if consumers believed they had opted out of Vizio’s data collection practices, Vizio was still collecting their data for a considerable period. In addition, Vizio’s...Smart Interactivity software switches back on without warning if the Smart TV ever reverts to the factory settings—as can occur through Vizio’s software updates. Consumers would likely not realize for a significant period that Vizio’s collection and disclosure software has been re-enabled because the opt-out feature is allegedly buried in an obscure settings menu."

So many of these companies wouldn't be facing settlements and lawsuits if they'd simply been transparent about what they were collecting in the first place. But time and time again we see "smart" IOT vendors trying to bullshit their way around what they're doing, bury settings that control privacy settings under layers of intentionally intimidating menus, or simply refuse outright to offer consumers working opt out tools in the first place.


Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 3:18pm

    If your state has a anti-snooping law...

    If your state, like mine, has very strict audio recording laws, Vizio is in for more than just civil lawsuits over this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 3:19pm

    Sale of feed

    I wonder if they ever offered direct sale of individual feeds. This would of course be for espionage. Legal or otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 6 Mar 2017 @ 3:27pm

    Somebody forgot to put a mandatory arbitration clause in their EULA...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 6 Mar 2017 @ 4:02pm

    Love not War!

    It is amazing how televisions have morphed from the lowly boob-tube to the highly intelligent sounding smart tv.

    Humanity would be best served if we shut them both off and read a book.

    If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace. ~ John Lennon, As quoted in Guitar Player (1 August 2004), and in "Pax Patter" at ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtvlBS4PMF0

    You must be the change you want to see in the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Mar 2017 @ 9:29pm

    Class actions are great... for lawyers. They will negotiate a settlement of say 20 milliin, charge 10 million in fees, and distribute the rest as 10 dollar off coupons for your next Visio purchase.

    America is amazing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lisboeta, 7 Mar 2017 @ 2:30am

    "the ... boob-tube"

    I thought a boob-tube was the stretchy fabric tube used to cover, er, boobs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 4:47am

      Re: "the ... boob-tube"

      Nope: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/boob_tube

      The term refers to the cathode-ray tube, or CRT, and to the boobs (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/boob, sense 1) who make up its audience.

      There is an alternate definition given which has the sense you describe, but TTBOMK that's comparatively much newer than the other; I certainly don't think I've heard it before today.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2017 @ 2:28pm

        OT - Re: Re: "the ... boob-tube"

        "alternate definition given which has the sense you describe, but TTBOMK that's comparatively much newer than the other; I certainly don't think I've heard it before today."

        I remember it from the 70s.

        For Avatar, it's literally a tube of fabric. No straps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 7 Mar 2017 @ 6:30am

      Re: "the ... boob-tube"

      What? Like a bra?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    UniKyrn, 7 Mar 2017 @ 11:49am

    Uh, what happens when EVERY company that sells TV's is just as bad and you need a new TV? Don't like your life being sold as marketing data? Don't buy a TV?

    How many people know enough and have a router smart enough, to configure a static IP address for that TV and then block that IP from EVER talking to an external IP again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Mar 2017 @ 2:32pm

      Re:

      "block that IP from EVER talking to an external IP again"

      The problem is that some TVs don't work unless they sense an internet connection and can talk to the mothership. Sometimes it doesn't mention this on the box, leading to stories about unhappy people dragging large TVs back to the big box shop when they find out it doesn't work without an internet connection.

      This is why choosing a TV is a painful research project and why I almost never watch any more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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