Your TV is probably tracking you -- here's how to stop it

TVs

by David Katzmaier February 22, 2017 5:00 AM PST @dkatzmaier

When you unpacked your new TV or streamer for the first time, you probably couldn't wait to start watching it. In the excitement to put it through its paces, chances are you just clicked "I agree" to all those screens of legal mumbo jumbo that came up during the setup process.

Did you know one of the things you likely agreed to was allowing your TV to track your viewing habits and send the information to advertisers and other third parties? The same could go for your streaming device.

Vizio was recently slapped with a $2.2 million fine by the FTC for failing to properly disclose how it shares its tracking information, and in previous years Samsung and LG have both faced similar scrutiny. Streamers from Roku, Apple, Amazon and Google haven't made any major privacy missteps yet, but their policies are generally less intrusive than those of TVs.

What kind of data do TVs and streamers collect?

Information about what you watch, which apps you use and other activity on your smart TV or streamer is valuable to advertisers and other third parties, as well as the manufacturers themselves. They use it to target ads and fine-tune viewing suggestions, among other things. Of course, similar usage data is also collected by phones, PCs and other devices, as well as many apps you use and web pages you visit.

Now that you know your TV or streamer could be tracking you, perhaps you want to go back and turn that tracking off. Here's how.

Stop your TV from tracking youSamsung

On 2016 TVs, click the remote's Home button, go to Settings (gear icon), scroll down to Support, then down to Terms & Policy. Under "Interest Based Advertisement" click "Disable Interactive Services." Under "Viewing Information Services" unclick "I agree." And under "Voice Recognition Services" click "Disable advanced features of the Voice Recognition services." If you want you can also disagree with the other two, Nuance Voice Recognition and Online Remote Management.

On older Samsung TVs, hit the remote's Menu button (on 2015 models only, then select Menu from the top row of icons), scroll down to Smart Hub, then select Terms & Policy. Disable "SynchPlus and Marketing." You can also disagree with any of the other policies listed there, and if your TV has them, disable the voice recognition and disagree with the Nuance privacy notice described above.

LG

On 2015, 2015 and 2016 LCD and OLED TVs with Web OS, click the remote's Settings button (gear icon), choose All Settings, then General. Scroll down to About This TV and then select User Agreements. There you can uncheck anything you want, but the ones labeled "Viewing Information," "Personalized Advertising" and "Voice Information" are the ones that track you.

On older LG TVs, click the Home or Menu button on the remote, scroll down to Option and turn Live Plus off.

Vizio

For the newest TVs, namely the 2016 E, M and P series that use Vizio's SmartCast system instead of a traditional smart TV menu, tracking is not enabled. On older Vizio Smart TVs sold before 2011, the company says tracking has been switched off already.

For Vizio smart TVs sold between 2011 and 2015, as well as the 2016 D series, you have to do it manually yourself. Click the remote's Menu button to open Settings, select System, followed by Reset and Admin. Then scroll down to Smart Interactivity (see photo at the top) and switch it to "Off."

Sony

For TVs from 2015 and 2016 that use Google's Android TV operating system (above), press the remote's Home button, navigate down to the bottom row to select Settings, scroll right along the top "TV" row and select About, then choose Ads. Click "Opt out of Ads Personalization" and "OK" on the pop-up that appears. Note that you're still subject to Google's privacy policy.

For older Sony TVs, we couldn't find any setting that applies to privacy. We've contacted Sony to find out whether those TVs collect information, and will update this section when we hear back.

Roku TVs

On TVs that use Roku's operating system, sold by TCL, Sharp, Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia and others, hit the Home button on the remote, scroll down to Settings, select System and then Privacy. From there check the box that says "Limit ad tracking."

Stop your streaming devices from tracking you, too Roku boxes and sticks

Roku's privacy policy is the same across all of its devices, and it uses the same ad tracking on its sticks and boxes as described above in the TVs section. Follow those instructions to turn it off.

Apple TV

On the new Apple TV (released in 2015), navigate to Settings (gear app icon), scroll down to Privacy, select Limit Ad Tracking and turn it On. On the privacy page you can also elect to disable sharing of diagnostic and usage data with Apple or third parties, disable location services and see which apps requested access to HomeKit or Photos apps.

On the old Apple TV, choose Settings (gear app icon) then General and change Send Data to Apple to No.

Google Chromecast

You can turn off Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra's collection of usage data and crash reports using the Home app on your phone or tablet. Open the app and select the Menu icon (the three lines in the upper left corner), choose Devices, look for the Chromecast device you want to control and hit the three dots in the upper left of its tile, choose Settings and uncheck the box next to "Send Chromecast device usage data and crash reports to Google."

Amazon Fire TV

To turn off ad tracking on any Amazon Fire TV box or stick with the new user interface (above), click the Home button on the remote, scroll across to Settings, select Preferences, scroll down to choose Advertising ID and turn off Interest-based Ads. Fire TV devices are also governed by Amazon's Device Terms of Use and general Privacy Notice.

On Fire TV devices with the old interface, click the Home button on the remote, scroll down to Settings, choose System, scroll down to choose Advertising ID and turn off Interest-based Ads.

Nvidia Shield (Android TV)

To turn off Nvidia Shield's collection of app usage and frequency, navigate down to Settings (gear icon), choose About, scroll down to Help NVIDIA to improve the SHIELD experience and select No.

Note that these screens on your particular smart TV or streaming device may vary, and if you can't find the privacy screen on your set, try updating its software to the most recent version. If that doesn't work, drop me a line in the comments section below.

It's also worth mentioning that some information -- not included in the opt-out options -- from TVs and streamers may still get sent to the manufacturer. The only way to be completely sure your device isn't doing so is to disconnect it entirely from the internet.

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