Smart TVs are a fantastic innovation, but they really are also tracking what you're watching. You’re not paranoid; it's really happening.
Smart TVs use ACR algorithms to identify the types of TV shows we watch. One of these systems, known as Samba TV is being used on millions of smart TVs around the world. It's quite possible that your TV also uses a tracking algorithm like this.
It doesn't matter whether you're watching online TV shows or traditional TV through your cable network. The algorithm is designed to monitor all viewership patterns. This is a godsend for advertisers who pay handsomely for this type of data. It's not so great for viewers at home concerned about privacy.
These systems can easily uncover personal information like your political affiliation. Next time you turn on MSNBC or Fox News, don't be surprised if the TV ads you start receiving are tailored to your viewing habits and preferences.
Once you hook up your TV to the internet, you run the risk of making your private life public. If that's not what you want to do, read on.
What Is ACR?
ACR stands for automatic content recognition. It is used to identify all TV shows that you watch, streaming services you use, DVD and Blu-ray discs etc.. ACR is not totally new; Shazam built its decade-long business on the technology.
According to IHS Markit, more than two-thirds of all TVs sold in the US are smart TVs. All of them are equipped with ACR. To prevent these devices from spying on you, you must disagree with their user agreements and privacy policies.
There are detailed instructions on how to turn off smart TV snooping features on different types of devices, including Sony TVs, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Vizio TVs and Roku TVs.
One of the latest smart TV systems on the market is Amazon Fire TV Edition. Fortunately, these TVs don't use ACR technology and they don't collect data about non-Amazon devices and cable box viewing activity.
Features Of Smart TVs
Companies that produce smart TVs have servers when you connect their smart TVs to the internet, data flows from your TV to that company's servers. The data is then sold to marketers. All sorts of data is collected, including channel numbers, time spent watching TV, commercials watched and so forth.
Don't forget – TVs can also have cameras and microphones.
It is quite possible that smart TVs with poor overall security systems could be hacked. If this happens, those cameras and microphones could be used to spy on you. That's a terrifying prospect because it puts you at risk.
Imagine somebody listening in on your conversations, watching what you're doing, knowing when you are at home and so forth. Nobody wants their privacy invaded, that's why the experts have compiled a list of do’s and don'ts to help keep you safe.
Basic Tips For Preventing Spying Activity
- If possible, use Fire TV, Apple TV, or Chromecast
- Do not connect your smart TV to your Wi-Fi network
- Do not connect your smart TV to the internet
If your smart TV is already hooked up to the internet, you may want to try a factory reset. This should clear any data it has stored and keep it from automatically connecting to the internet again.
Many of the leading smart TV manufacturers enable spying features on their products by default. Some TVs even have "always-listening" commands; you'll want to disable this feature if possible.
Adjusting Privacy Settings On Smart TVs
The US Bureau of Consumer Protection director, Jessica Rich had this to say about smart TVs:
"Smart TVs are testing the privacy expectations that consumers developed in the era of traditional television"
Many of these smart TVs have voice recording systems. It's possible to turn off voice recording by navigating through the settings and support section and selecting "Disagree" with their policies. On Vizio TVs, you can easily turn off automated content recognition this way.
Agree To Disagree
Many of us simply agree with the terms and conditions that companies provide. We don't have to though, especially where privacy matters are concerned. If you want your smart TV to stop spying on you, it's important to reject the T&Cs that allow the company to gather data from you.
Other online streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Video also monitor what shows you're watching and use that information to recommend similar titles for you to watch. If the service you want to use forces you to accept sharing your data consider getting a VPN.
The primary purpose of a VPN is to add layers of anonymity and security to your online activity. If you want viewing habits as well, you can connect your VPN service to a smart TV.
VPNs automatically give you greater online security and anonymity, but this should be done in tandem with various other privacy measures listed above.
What is the Government Doing About This?
In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Vizio to stop spying on customers. The company was forced to pay a fine of $2.2 million to settle the case with the FTC.
Since then, Vizio has added the option for users to switch off Smart Interactivity in a few quick steps. If you’re using Vizio, do this:
- Click the menu button
- Choose settings
- Highlight Smart Interactivity
- Turn off Smart Interactivity
Many tech experts shun smart TVs and favor things like Roku and Apple TV. There is near universal agreement among security pros that the best thing you can do with a smart TV is disconnect it from the internet. It's a radical move, but it is guaranteed to work.