We learned back in 2015 that while all smart TVs collect data on your viewing habits, Vizio was going above and beyond, collecting more information than most, and telling you even less about it. As you might expect, loads of folks who owned Vizio TVs were deeply unhappy about this, and sued the company. And now, a judge has denied Vizio’s motion to dismiss that suit, meaning it will indeed have to defend itself in court.
The lawsuit currently working its way through the court system began as separate complaints filed by consumers and state prosecutors. In 2016, those various lawsuits were rolled up together into one large case that is now being heard by a federal court judge in California.
All together, the plaintiffs are bringing a whole heap of legal complaints against Vizio, under the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), the Wiretap Act, and various fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and consumer protection claims under various state laws. Vizio asked to have all of them dismissed, for different reasons.
Vizio, for its part, has been trying to get that case dismissed. Its main argument is that the folks suing them can’t prove concretely that they have been harmed by Vizio’s data collection. But the court is rejecting that claim.
In a ruling [PDF] issued late last week, U.S. District Court judge Josephine Stanton denied Vizio’s motion to dismiss, essentially telling the company it has to stick around and defend itself properly in the suit.
“Congress has determined that the interception of a person’s electronic communications and the unauthorized disclosure of a person’s video viewing history are sufficiently harmful to warrant private causes of action,” Stanton writes. Those “private causes of action” are lawsuits, like this one.
Stanton also adds that Vizio’s argument that data is not identifiable, “Taken to its logical conclusion, … absurdly implies that a court could never enter judgment against a plaintiff on a VPPA claim if it found that the disclosed information was not within the statutory definition of personally identifiable information; instead, it would have to remand or dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction.”
The folks doing the suing also say they “would not have purchased, or would have paid less for, their Vizio Smart TVs had [Vizio] not concealed their collection and disclosure” of their personal information, and Judge Stanton found this to be a plausible economic harm, and ruled that the defendants have standing to sue on that basis.
The judge was partly sympathetic to Vizio’s legal arguments, though, in particular against the wiretap claim. Stanton does indeed dismiss claim, as well as some of the different state claims, granting the plaintiffs 21 days to file amended claims (i.e. try better, within the scope of her reading of the law) or else give up on that particular front.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Vizio’s privacy issues have been pushed back into the spotlight.
In February, the company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a 2014 lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC sued Vizio, not because it collected customer data, but because the company failed to adequately warn customers it was going to collect that information.