Smart TVs: First, They Spied; Now They Are Being Programmed to Make Amends

Welcome to the future: Class action notices delivered through Smart TV displays. That is, if the technology works and satisfies applicable legal standards.
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If those who purchased Vizio Smart TVs haven't heard that their Internet-connected devices collected information without affirmative express consent, they may be finding out about it directly from their Smart TV.

On Wednesday, attorneys in a class action lawsuit against Vizio over its data collection and dissemination practices asked a California federal judge to extend the time to submit a motion for a preliminary settlement. The settlement was originally scheduled to be detailed publicly on Sept. 12, but now the parties say they require a delay. Why?

According to court papers, "The Parties are developing a class notice program with direct notification to the class through VIZIO Smart TV displays, which requires testing to make sure any TV notice can be properly displayed and functions as intended. The additional time requested will allow the parties to confirm that the notice program proposed in the motion for preliminary approval is workable and satisfies applicable legal standards."

Consider it a potentially spooky end to a case about spying.

After ProPublica first revealed in 2015 that Vizio was offering advertisers highly specific viewing behavior data, a rash of class action lawsuits followed. Those were eventually consolidated, and a judge ruled twice — in March 2017 and July 2017 — that Vizio had to face claims ranging from violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act to illegal wiretapping.

Vizio insisted that it was only collecting and sharing nonpersonal information such as IP addresses and zip codes, but the plaintiffs had researchers coming forward to say that it was easy to figure out who was watching what.

The FTC also investigated, but after the Trump Administration took office, Vizio came to a nominal $2.2 million settlement with the government and also agreed to obtain affirmative express consent from customers for sharing data. Meanwhile, Vizio has been separately pursuing a fraud case over a failed $2 billion merger with China's LeEco. The smart TV manufacturer accuses the Chinese company of falsely misrepresenting its financial health and concocting a secret plan to obtain confidential customer information.

The consumer class action entailed massive discovery but before summary judgment motions were made, the parties informed the court last June of a potential settlement.

Now, the attorneys at Girard Gibbs leading the class action say they wish to detail the terms of the settlement on or before Oct. 3. We'll report about the deal when it's submitted in court — or whenever those spying TVs tell the public about whatever amends are being made.