How-To

How to Stop Your TV from Spying on You

Your shiny new smart TV is spying on you. Here’s a look at how it does spy and how to stop or at least limit ad tracking.

In addition to being tracked while using apps on your phone and when online, your TV is doing a good job of spying on you, too. Here is a look at some helpful information on how your TV spies. And how to stop it – erm, limit it at least.

How Your TV Spies On You

The feature is called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR). It is used to spy on your viewing habits, regardless of what you’re watching. It attempts to identify what you watch via cable, over-the-air, streaming services, as well as DVDs and Blu-rays. In addition to determining what you’re watching, it is used to target ads and other marketing purposes.

As an example, Vizio was fined $2.2 million for not properly disclosing how it shares tracking information on 11 million of its TV sets. And if that isn’t enough, the CIA’s “Weeping Angel” hack turned Samsung TVs into live mics. Those are just two real-world examples of the types of tracking that can be done using your TV.

Like your PC or any device, the minute you connect your smart TV to your Wi-Fi, it relays your location, the TV’s information, and more. To help protect yourself, don’t keep your smart TV connected to your Wi-Fi and use a third-party set-top box or stick. They have more features to help you stop tracking — more on that below.

But in all likelihood, you’ll need to connect your TV to the internet to download new firmware updates. Most manufacturers don’t provide a way to download individual firmware updates so you can manually install them yourself locally. And unfortunately, the only way to connect to the internet to get your firmware is to completely set it up – like a Roku TV, for example. And if you aren’t able to disconnect it from the network, you can try to disable tracking through the TV’s settings.

Prevent Spying and Ad Tracking on Set-top Boxes

Your set-top box is keeping track of what you watch via the apps you have installed on it. You can do your best to limit ad-tracking, though. When you turn off ad tracking, it notifies providers like Netflix or Amazon that you don’t want to be tracked. But there’s no guarantee it will happen as Roku or Apple can’t enforce it. For more on limiting ad tracking check out our article on how to limit ad tracking on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast.

Don’t Use a Smart TV App on Your Phone

Another way tracking information can be relayed back to the home base is by installing a smart tv manufacture’s mobile app. So, if possible, don’t install those new apps on your phone just because you can. As you use a Samsung remote app, for example, it will send all sorts of data points back to the mothership. And while you’re at it, forget installing the Roku or Fire TV app on your smartphone, too.

Summing Up

It’s virtually impossible to buy just a “dumb” TV anymore. So, your best bet is to never connect your TV to Wi-Fi. And just connect a Roku, Apple TV, or other external devices. Then you can disable or limit tracking through it, but still, that won’t block all tracking.

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