Back in 2015, we covered how Vizio was using its new smart TVs to gather data on the viewing habits of all US customers, then sending that data back to itself to sell to third party advertising companies. What made the breach of customer trust particularly egregious was the fact that Vizio was doing this whether the end-user agreed to it or not. While the company patched that specific problem after it was publicly disclosed by third parties, the FTC opened an investigation into the company’s behavior more generally.
The findings of that investigation have since been announced. Since February 2014, Vizio has sold TVs with Inscape’s ACR content recognition software pre-installed. This software has been retrofitted into previously sold devices that lacked it — unless you’ve got a TV from prior to 2014 that you’ve never connected to the Internet, chances are that you’ve got ACR software sitting on your TV. The FTC notes that this software allows Vizio to collect information on what a consumer is watching on a second-by-second basis:
Defendants’ ACR software captures information about a selection of pixels on the screen and sends that data to Vizio servers, where it is uniquely matched to a database of publicly available television, movie, and commercial content. Defendants collect viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, external streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Defendants have stated that the ACR software captures up to 100 billion data points each day from more than 10 million Vizio televisions. Defendants store this data indefinitely.
Here’s how the system works. To you, the following line segment doesn’t look like much:
To a computer, however, each pixel of that image can be translated into data and compared with similar blocks of pixels taken from a huge catalog of TV and movies. When we talk about Big Data giving us access to relationship information that was previously obscured, this isn’t the kind of breakthrough most people had in mind, but that’s what it is. One pixel’s worth of data doesn’t identify anything, but an entire slice of data from a frame can be compared with a comprehensive data base of film and movie “slices” to see which they match up with. Here’s more, from the FTC:Read More...
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