Judge Rejects Vizio’s Call To Dismiss Privacy Violation Claim
A Vizio 2017 E-Series XXL 4K Ultra HD LED TV with HDR
Vizio continues to fight legal complaints for its alleged datamining activities through its smart TVs with word this week that a federal judge presiding over a class action lawsuit rejected a bid to dismiss allegations that Vizio violated federal video privacy law.
In a bit of bad timing, the news came as Vizio announced the accumulation of new customer service awards and introduced its 2017 lineup of E-Series 4K Ultra HDTVs with HDR support and a built-in Chromecast smart TV system.
U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton of the Central District of California ruled against Vizio’s claim that the Video Privacy Protection Act doesn’t apply to device manufacturers. The 1988 law prohibits video providers from disclosing personally identifiable information about individual video-viewing history.
Staton is presiding over a group of consolidated lawsuits filed by consumers across the country against Vizio for allegedly selling them televisions without adequately communicating its practice of private viewer data collection with the intent to share or sell it to third parties for advertising, sales and other purposes.
In rejecting Vizio’s argument, Staton ruled that Congress intended video privacy law to apply to companies “in the business of delivering video content,” which would include Vizio, according to a report on MediaPost.
UPDATE! In a statement on the decision, a company spokesman said: “Vizio is pleased that the Court recognized that many of plaintiffs’ claims, including their claims for fraud, are simply not supported by plaintiffs’ factual allegations. We continue to believe that the entirety of Plaintiffs’ lawsuit should be dismissed, as the lawsuits are based on inaccurate speculation and legally without merit. We will continue to aggressively defend our company in this matter.”
Read more on the ruling in the class-action datamining case after the jump:
Vizio, which has denied that its data collection system identifies individual viewers, said that it wasn’t alleged in the complaints to have revealed viewer identification — only “IP addresses, media access control (MAC) addresses, zip codes, computer names, and product serial numbers.”
In her ruling, Staton countered that “the complaint alleged that MAC addresses can be used to learn specific geolocation data, and can identify individuals when combined with data about IP addresses, ZIP codes, serial numbers, and the other information that Vizio allegedly disclosed,” according to MediaPost.
Staton also cited Vizio’s own marketing materials for allegedly promoting its ability to offer specific viewing behavior data. “Plaintiffs have thus plausibly alleged that Vizio’s provision of — to quote its own prospectus — ‘highly specific viewing behavior data on a massive scale with great accuracy’ amounts to the disclosure of personally identifiable information,” Staton wrote.
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In a separate and related enforcement action, Vizio settled an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New Jersey Feb. 6th, 2017 for allegedly engaging in an unfair consumer tracking practice and failing to adequately explain its data-collection policies to customers prior to purchase. In settling the charges, Vizio agreed to pay $2.2 million to the FTC and State of New Jersey and said it would clearly communicate its data collections practices and use of collected data to prospective customers going forward.
Vizio has been waiting for government approvals and other issues to complete a pending acquisition that would give controlling interest in the operation to Chinese-manufacturer LeEco. Since the acquisition was announced last summer LeEco has been hit with a continuing string of disappointments in other areas of its multi-faceted business interests. At the same time, Vizio has been fighting the various legal challenges against the datamining challenges.
The $2.2 billion Vizio megadeal, which was first announced last summer, has brought a lot of attention to LeEco as it tries to launch here new lines of internet-linked TVs, electric cars, bicycles, smartphones and other devices, all sharing in an interconnected ecosystem of streaming content and services that includes LeEco-produced feature films like the Matt Damon fantasy The Great Wall, which is in theaters now.
Unfortunately for Vizio, the judge’s decision in the datamining case came just days after Vizio promoted that it was recognized with new Stevie Awards for “sales and customer service.” In addition to the Top Ten Grand Stevie Award Vizio said it received two gold, eight silver and four bronze medals for a total to 63 since 2012.
Meanwhile, Vizio also announced this week its 2017 entry or E Series 4K Ultra HDTV lineup. The new models, which include 4K Ultra HD LCD TVs with full-array LED back lighting, have been designed to provide high dynamic range (HDR) video at disruptive price points. All models in the series measuring 55-inch and larger will accept and present 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR (at entry performance levels), the company said. Price for a 55-inch 4K HDR E Series set will start at $550. The sets support only the HDR10 format. Dolby Vision is not included.
The new sets will also include the Chromecast smart TV platform built-in, along with support for Google Home voice-command integration through the Google Home smart speaker.
The E Series also including models with screen sizes as large as 75 ($2,000) and 80 ($3,400) inches. Both models are available now, with others screen sizes to follow shortly.
By Greg Tarr
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