ViZio flat screen televisions sit on display inside a Costco store in Queens, New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 28, 2009.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Alex Fitzpatrick
February 7, 2017

TV maker Vizio is paying $2.2 million to settle charges that it tracked owners’ viewing habits, then turned around and sold that data without users’ permission.

Here’s more from the Federal Trade Commission’s statement:

According to the agencies’ complaint, starting in February 2014, VIZIO, Inc. and an affiliated company have manufactured VIZIO smart TVs that capture second-by-second information about video displayed on the smart TV, including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices.

In addition, VIZIO facilitated appending specific demographic information to the viewing data, such as sex, age, income, marital status, household size, education level, home ownership, and household value, the agencies allege. VIZIO sold this information to third parties, who used it for various purposes, including targeting advertising to consumers across devices, according to the complaint.

What does this mean for people who already own Vizio TVs?

First, as part of the deal, the company agreed to delete all data gathered before March 1, 2016. Moving forward, the company will have to get your consent to share any data. (In a statement, Vizio said it “never paired viewing data with personally identifiable information.”)

Second, some commentators are recommending Vizio owners throw away their televisions. But that’s an extreme and impractical step, particularly for the TV buyers-on-a-budget who tend to be Vizio’s core market.

An alternate solution: Disconnect your Vizio set from your home Internet connection. That will mean you won’t get access to your TV’s “smart” features, like the ability to watch Netflix without a separate streaming device like a Chromecast or Roku. But it also means Vizio won’t be able to transmit any data about your viewing habits. Considering that smart TV user interfaces tend to be clunky anyway, that’s a small sacrifice for extra privacy. Or, check your TV’s owner manual for instructions to turn off the “Smart Interactivity” feature, which was the setting allowing Vizio to collect data, according to the FTC.

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