Lawmakers ask FTC to investigate smart TV data collection

They say consumers should be given the opportunity to consent.

Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sent a letter to the FTC this week requesting that the agency open an investigation into how smart TVs collect consumer viewing data and whether manufacturers disclose that practice adequately. They wrote that while smart TV advancements have "ushered in a new era of innovation and interactivity," they must not come at the expense of consumer privacy. "Televisions have entered a new era, but that does not mean that users' sensitive information no longer deserves protection," the senators said. "The content consumers watch is private, and it should not be assumed that customers want companies to track and use information on their viewing habits."

In their letter, Senators Markey and Blumenthal cite a New York Times report on Samba TV, a company that tracks viewer information in order to develop curated show recommendations. "Recent reports suggest that Samba TV, one of the largest companies tracking smart TV users' viewing behavior, offers consumers the opportunity to enable their tracking service, but does not provide sufficient information about its privacy practices to ensure users can make truly informed decisions," said Markey and Blumenthal. They go on to say that any company that collects this type of information should have to "comprehensively and concisely detail who will have access to that data, how that data will be used and what steps will be taken to protect that information," and added that consumers should have the opportunity to consent to that sort of data collection.

They note that the FTC has taken action on this before, investigating Vizio for collecting viewing data on 11 million smart TVs without consumers' knowledge. Last year, the company settled with both the FTC and the New Jersey Attorney General, agreeing to pay $2.2 million in penalties and to delete data collected before March 1st, 2016.

Blumenthal and Markey have also recently pressed both Facebook and Google on their data policies. They have both also sought greater FTC oversight of Facebook following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The two concluded their letter by saying, "We respectfully request that the FTC continue its efforts on smart TVs and launch an investigation into the privacy policies and practices of smart TV manufacturers."