Two Senate Democrats are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate smart TV manufacturers’ privacy practices, including whether they adequately explain targeted advertising to consumers.
“Many internet-connected smart TVs are equipped with sophisticated technologies that can track the content users are watching and then use that information to tailor and deliver targeted advertisements to consumers,” Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) write in a letter to the FTC. “Regrettably, smart TV users may not be aware of the extent to which their televisions are collecting sensitive information about their viewing habits.”
The lawmakers reference a recent article in The New York Times that called attention to Samba TV’s disclosures to consumers. That company reportedly urges consumers to enable a service that informs them it recommends shows and provides offers by recognizing onscreen content. But the company doesn’t elaborate on how much data it collects, according to the Times.
A study by Ace Metrix, released last week, also casts doubt on whether consumers understand data collection by smart TVs. That study, based on a survey of 36,000 people, found that many don’t know how their TVs monitor viewing activity. For instance, 61% of respondents with Vizio sets said they weren’t sure if their smart TV collected data.
The lawmakers say in their letter to the FTC that smart TV manufacturers shouldn’t track consumers’ viewing habits without their explicit consent.
“Televisions have entered a new era, but that does not mean that users’ sensitive information no longer deserves protection,” Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) write in a letter to the FTC. “The content consumers watch is private, and it should not be assumed that customers want compaies to track and use information on their viewing habits.”
The FTC recently prosecuted Vizio for allegedly engaging in an unfair practice by tracking consumers, and for deceiving consumers by failing to adequately explain its data practices. The company agreed to settle the charges by paying $2.2 million to the FTC and the state of New Jersey, which also brought a complaint against the company.
Vizio still faces a consumer class-action suit alleging that the company violated a federal video privacy law, by sharing information about consumers with ad-tech companies and data brokers. The company said in court papers filed last week that it has reached a potential settlement of that matter.