Stop your smart TV spy – how to turn off data collection for every brand

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At Tom’s Guide, we love TVs, especially smart TVs. The shift to internet-connected TVs that can run apps and stream from all of your favorite services has been largely a good thing, freeing people from the limited options of local broadcasting channels and providing a whole landscape of alternatives to local broadcast channels. traditional cable subscriptions. There is a reason why our best televisions list is almost entirely made up of smart TVs.

But there is one aspect of smart TVs that isn’t all that hot. And that’s the whole gamut of invasive commercials and uncomfortably detailed information that TV makers – including all best tv brands – are able to collect information on the listening habits of your household.

From the apps you open to the shows you watch, your TV pays close attention to what you do and reports so that the data collected can be used to personalize ads or be sold to other groups (again. once, mostly advertisers).

Smart tv

(Image credit: Dmitri Ma / Shutterstock)

Just recently a vizio income report revealed that advertising and viewer data was more profitable for the TV maker than the TV hardware itself, and Vizio isn’t alone in this case. According to a interview with Variety In 2018, Roku’s profitable advertising and licensing business reached 1 in 4 U.S. households and also won the lion’s share of the money for the smart streaming platform.

This is one of the reasons why televisions have become so affordable over the past few years, as these advertising and data collection opportunities provide an additional source of revenue for businesses, making televisions profitable beyond the market. sale of physical equipment. With smart TVs packed with software made by data-hungry companies like Google and Amazon, this lucrative side of the smart TV industry is a mainstay for everyone on the TV aisle.

Using a variety of technologies, from tracking the shows you watch and the apps you open, to matching your viewing data to web browsing from other devices using location and IP address information , smart TVs collect a lot of information. Ideally, this data is used to provide you with more relevant advertising and better content suggestions. More often than not, however, it is also sold to third parties.

The worst part? You probably gave them the green light to do everything when you set up your TV in the first place. Powering up a new smart TV invariably includes a few brief user agreement screens that rarely get a second glance from users as they rush to log in and start streaming. But these short screens often include user agreements that can be tens or even hundreds of pages long. And that includes granting the TV permission to spy on your viewing habits.

While there is a lot to be said about the ethical concerns associated with these practices, one thing is very clear: people want a way out.

So here are some steps you can take to combat walking intrusive ads and creepy surveillance.

Turn off ads and tracking

Finally, the easiest option is to turn off ads and tracking when you can. Thanks in large part to laws such as the European General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2020, televisions sold in the United States must offer users a way to opt out of most monitoring and data collection.

The biggest offender comes in the form of Automated Content Recognition (ACR). This technology takes a small sample of the pixels on your screen as a fingerprint to identify the content you are watching. This allows the TV to have a fairly high level of detail about your viewing habits, whether you’re streaming through an independent app or watching from an external device.

Disabling ACR will stop most data collections with a single parameter change. But this is not a universal solution. Data collection methods vary widely from brand to brand, and the process is made a bit opaque by burying the options deep in the settings and using benign sounding names for the tracking features.

Opting out of these practices will eliminate the majority of disturbing behaviors, but it is not a panacea. There will most likely still be information collected on any connected device, and you will still receive advertisements and content recommendations, although they may not be tailored to your taste.

There is also the legitimate concern that TV brands will not fully honor a takedown request. This is not an unfounded fear, because several major brands have been surprised to act a little shady on these practices. Trusting them to honor a checkbox or a change in settings that cuts off a significant source of income is understandably suspect.

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

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Try a Pi-hole

If you want to retain the ability to deliver by filtering out ads and tracking that you don’t want, one option you can try is to actively block only unwanted traffic on your network. This can be done quite easily with a device called Pi-hole, a Raspberry Pi-based device that applies ad blocking scripts to every device on your network and allows you to monitor outgoing traffic.

To install it you will only need a cheap mini PC, like the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B + or most recent Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. From there, you can follow the practical instructions offered by our partner site, Tom’s Hardware to learn How to block network wide ads with Pi-hole on Raspberry Pi.

Lobotomize your smart TV

Another easy method to cut off all the data practices that you find unwanted is to stop them at the source, the Internet connection. When setting up your TV, do not connect it to Wi-Fi and do not plug in an Ethernet line. Without an internet connection, your smart TV is still pretty dumb. (On some TVs, an internet connection is required to complete the setup, which can make a TV so dumb it is useless.)

If you’ve ever set up a smart TV, you can still lobotomize it by performing a factory reset, which will erase all of your apps and settings, but also allow you to set the TV up like new, with the option to skip. Wi-Fi. -Fi connect.

But, like buying a silly TV, lowering a smart TV and removing the built-in features you paid for isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

Buy a stupid TV

The easiest way to keep your TV private, without all the extra items, is to never invite it into your home. You can buy a stupid TV that’s designed just to scan channels and attract local stations. You can find out all about the options in our article How to Buy a Dumb TV – and Why You Would Want.

The solution won’t be to everyone’s liking, however, as it removes all the handy features that make smart TVs so appealing in the first place. You can always add a measure of smart functionality by choosing one of the best streaming devices, but be aware that every streaming device (whether it’s a smart TV or a streaming stick) will have a combination. data collection and advertising.

How to turn off ads and tracking on smart TVs

Here’s how to find the menus and settings you need for your smart TV, categorized by smart TV brand and platform.

Amazon Fire TV

  • Go to Settings> Preferences> Privacy settings
  • Select device usage data to limit data collection
  • Select Collect app and live usage to turn off content tracking for apps and broadcast channels
  • Select interest-based ads to limit ad personalization

Android TV and Google TV

  • Go to Settings> About> Legal information
  • Here you can opt out of personalized ads

On Sony TVs, you will also need to turn off Samba TV

  • Go to Settings> Device Preferences
  • Disable Samba Interactive TV to disable ACR

LG webOS

  • Go to Settings> Additional settings> General
  • Select Live Plus to turn off ACR
  • Select Ads and change the setting to “Do not sell my personal information”
  • Go to Settings> Additional settings> User contracts
  • Review the terms of service and privacy policy, then turn off news display, voice information, interest-based and cross-device advertising, and automatic recognition of Live Plus content.

Roku TVs

  • Go to Settings> Privacy
  • Select Smart TV Experience to deactivate “Use information from TV inputs”
  • Select Advertising to adjust the ad tracking settings
  • Select Microphone to adjust the channel microphone access and channel permissions settings

Samsung tizen

  • Go to Settings> Support> Terms & privacy> Privacy choice
  • Select Display Info Services to turn off ACR
  • Select Interest-based advertising to adjust ad personalization settings
  • Select Speech Recognition Services to adjust speech data collection

Vizio SmartCast

  • Go to Settings> Admin & Privacy
  • Select Data View to turn off ACR
  • Select Advertising to adjust ad tracking


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