What your smart TV knows about you – and how to prevent it from collecting data | Television

OWatching TV sounds like a benign pastime, but as all TVs become “smart” – connected to the internet through your router – they also gain the ability to watch you. As soon as you turn them on, smart TVs made by LG, Samsung, and Sony collect data from the TV itself, as well as the operating system and apps. Then there are the devices you plug into your TV, such as Google’s Chromecast, Apple TV, and Amazon’s Fire Stick.

A TV is no longer just a device to show you content – it’s become a two-way mirror that allows you to be watched in real time by a network of advertisers and data brokers, says Rowenna Fielding, Director from data protection consultancy Miss IG Geek. “The goal is to gather as much information about your behavior, interests, preferences and demographics as possible so that we can monetize them, primarily through targeted advertising.”

Smart TV spying is hard to avoid. A study by researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that data from TVs and smart devices was sent to Google’s advertising business and Netflix, even if people didn’t have Netflix.

What does your smart TV know about you?

The data collected by your smart TV depends on its manufacturer, brand and version. In theory, most smart TVs are capable of collecting audio, video and TV usage data, says Toby Lewis, global head of threat analysis at cybersecurity firm Darktrace.

Voice activation is a feature that may collect large amounts of data. Microphones and software listen for instructions and can pick up conversations and other sounds within range. These recordings may be sent to third parties for analysis.

Cross-device tracking is another issue to consider. According to Fielding, data collected through your smart TV is more valuable when combined with information from other smart devices such as mobile phones, laptops and home automation equipment. “This allows individuals to be profiled in detail: geolocation history, web browsing activity and social media information can be added to TV data.”

Then there are cookies and trackers. Apps and browsers on smart TVs use cookie and pixel tracking technologies, just like websites, to track, recognize and identify devices for user profiling purposes. “Most apps installed on your smart TV will be passed on to a vast network of advertisers and data brokers,” Fielding warns.

What does your TV do with the data?

There is no clear answer. What exactly is done with the data is complex and “very opaque,” ​​says Lewis. “When you look at what a smart TV does on the network, you often don’t know why certain data is collected and where it is sent.”

There is not much difference between TV brands. Manufacturers claim to use your information for “personalization” and content quality, but it’s common to sell this kind of data, anonymized or semi-anonymized, to third parties, ad networks, or streaming services. “Once the data is sold, it’s out of the manufacturer’s control,” says Lewis. “It’s often difficult to know exactly what data is returned, depending on terms and conditions and privacy settings, and it can be very difficult to change the default settings once you’ve accepted them.”

How streaming services also collect data

Using streaming services on a smart TV is another surefire way to transmit a lot of personal data. Apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV tend to claim that they only use data for necessary services such as recommendations or credit checks. But it may include data such as device identifiers, geolocation, browser type, email address, and payment information.

Netflix’s powerful recommendation algorithm powers the quality of its service by helping you decide which shows to watch. If you sign in to Netflix through your browser, you can change the privacy settings to limit what data is collected and shared. Yet much of the data Netflix collects, such as what shows you watched and when, is so essential to its service that you can’t opt ​​out.

What is Automatic Content Recognition or ACR?

Back to the smart TV itself. One scary feature to watch out for is Automated Content Recognition (ACR). Often enabled by default, this uses analytical techniques to identify the video and audio playing on the TV, comparing it against a large database to identify what’s playing. It’s pretty scary – ACR works on anything the TV plays, including DVDs and Blu-rays, CDs and games.

Data and viewing habits are shared with manufacturers and ultimately sold to advertisers to target you with ads, says Jake Moore, global cybersecurity adviser at security firm ESET. When your TV is connected to your home router, the data will also include your IP address and location, he adds.

And in theory, ACR could be used for even more disturbing profiling, Lewis says. “With available analytics technologies, data from facial recognition, sentiment analysis, text-to-speech and content analysis could be brought together to create a detailed picture of an individual user.”

Instead of matching content against a list of known movies, the ACR could in theory be scanned for political standing, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, and other things that could be abused in the wrong hands, said Lewis.

Should you use your TV as a browser or your smartphone as a TV remote?

Using the browser on your TV might be convenient, but it’s a major attack target for hackers. This is because your Smart TV browser does not have the antivirus and additional security settings built into your smartphone or PC.

“Cyber ​​attackers can snoop on browser traffic and compromise cookies that manage authentication to online services, such as social media accounts or online banking, and impersonate people,” he said. Dr. Francisco Navarro, lecturer at the Cybersecurity Center of De Montfort University. in Leicester.

But on the other hand, experts say that using your smartphone as a TV remote is okay. Just keep in mind that connecting to a smart TV with a mobile will be via Bluetooth or over the network, says James Griffiths, co-founder and chief technical officer of security consultancy Cyber ​​Security Associates. “If the smart TV has been hacked, it could be used to attack your mobile device, but the risk of this happening is low.”

Protect yourself from Smart TV snooping

As long as they’re connected to the internet, smart TVs collect data, and you can’t completely prevent that from happening. In many cases, it’s not in your best interest to do so as it will affect your viewing experience – take Netflix’s helpful recommendations features as an example.

Still, there are some basic steps you can take to protect yourself from smart TV snooping. Disable ACR in settings, disable personalization, disable all advertising features, and cover or disable cameras and microphones.

It’s also important to make sure your router is protected by changing the password and setting up a guest network. You can improve security by disabling web tracking when offered and applying software updates as they become available.

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