Senators Seek FTC Investigation of Smart TV Manufacturers

A pair of high-profile Democrat veterans of the communications privacy trenches are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into Smart TV manufacturer privacy practices.

In a letter to FTC chairman Joe Simons, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both Commerce Committee members, said they were concerned about smart TV technologies that can track what viewers are watching without their consent.

They point to data showing that as of the end of last year, 45% of TV households in the U.S. had a smart TV, households whose residents "[r]egrettably, may not be aware of the extent to which their televisions are collecting sensitive information about their viewing habits."

Related: Vizio Settles Smart TV Data Collection Complaint

Cable and satellite TV information is covered by FCC MVPD privacy rules--cable ops must detail their data practices and secure permission to disclose sensitive info--but they point out that those do not cover data companies using internet connected TV's to track smart viewers' habits, like their political leanings depending on whether they watch liberal or conservative programs or outlets.

They senators acknowledge that the FTC has been relatively active in the space, convening a workshop on Smart TV privacy issues in December 2015, then securing a settlement with Vizio over charges it had installed software to collect viewing data on millions of consumers without their knowledge.

Likely signaling the privacy regime they would like to see applied to ISPs and edge providers, Markey and Blumenthal said that "any entity collecting and using sensitive information should be 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. Users should then be given the opportunity to affirmatively consent to the collection and use of their sensitive information...."

They gave the FTC a pat on the back for its efforts to date, but also called for the new investigation.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.