Sat. May 18th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Smart TVs track your viewing habits using content recognition and voice capture for targeted advertising.
  • Opting out of data collection practices is imperfect but limits tracking on platforms like LG and Samsung TVs.
  • Disconnecting smart TVs from the internet can prevent data tracking, but limits functionality and will require you to use a streaming box for many tasks (which may also track you).

Your smart TV knows what you watch, when you watch it, and can even link your viewing habits to other devices. To stop this, you have two imperfect options: opt out or disconnect altogether.

Your Smart TV Is Spying on You

There’s no way to tell exactly what smart TV manufacturers know about you. Data is collected about your usage, which includes basic things like which apps you use, the channels you watch, and what time you’re usually slumped in front of the TV.

But there are more insidious tracking habits you should be aware of. “Automated content recognition” (ACR) goes a step further and can analyze and report exactly what’s happening on your TV, regardless of source. Your TV knows when you’re playing video games on a console, watching a film on a separate Blu-ray player, or casting home movies to your TV from your phone.

Voice capture is another concern since most smart TVs come with assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. The microphones that these features depend on may capture any sound or conversation in the same room as your TV. Thankfully, the vast majority of TVs don’t have cameras on them for video calling (not yet, anyway).

Remote control for a 2020 LG CX OLED.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

The data captured about you can be combined with data from other sources, using cross-device linking. For example, if you have a smartphone on the same wireless network, it’s easy for marketers to link your watching habits with an existing profile that reveals things like your age, location, who you’re likely to vote for, whether you have children, and so on. It’s just one of the ways advertisers track you across the web.

Ultimately, this is all done to serve you ads. The more a marketer knows about you, the better they can tailor the advertisements you see. But there are further privacy concerns, like data falling into the wrong hands. In this instance, you could become more than an “anonymized” advertiser mark, and have your data linked to your real identity.

In addition to marketing, data itself has value. Insights can be gleaned about the habits of certain cohorts and sold for research purposes. It’s impossible to know what these companies are doing with this data, but it’s all in the pursuit of money so ultimately you become the product and your habits are the juicy prize.

Opt out of Data Collection

Most TV platforms offer a way to opt out of some of the more insidious data collection practices, notably ACR. Just because you’ve opted out of this information doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t still being tracked, in some way.

For example, analytics may still be gathered about usage for non-marketing purposes. You’re also trusting that the manufacturer will abide by your request. If you’re concerned, we’d recommend combing through the small print within the privacy policy you need to accept to use the TV.

Opting out of ACR on a 2020 LG CX smart TV.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Opting out of these practices is one way you can keep your TV connected to the internet while limiting tracking. This is better than nothing but far from exhaustive. It allows you to still use the TV’s built-in apps, and to receive over-the-air software updates when they become available.

Note: Due to the way manufacturers update and change their TV software, it’s not possible to provide a guide that applies to all models. If you can’t follow the exact steps below, we recommend having a dig through the menus and looking for similar options elsewhere.

Disable Data Tracking on LG (webOS) TVs

Not all LG TVs have the same options, particularly since LG refreshed its webOS interface in the 2021 (C1, G1, B1) models.

  1. Launch Settings on your LG TV (you may need to hold the Settings button on your remote for the full menu to load).
  2. On the “General” tab select “Additional Settings” and disable “Live Plus” to limit ACR.
  3. Within the “Additional Settings” menu, enable “Limit AD Tracking” and disable “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” (if present). You can also reset your tracking ID here.
  4. Now find “User Agreements” under General > Additional Settings or Support > Additional Settings.
  5. Now opt-out of any of the following where present: Viewing Information Agreement, Voice Information, Interest-Based Advertisement Agreement, Live Plus Automatic Content Recognition.

Disable Data Tracking on Samsung (Tizen) TVs

You might need to dig around on a Samsung TV since the instructions will vary depending on the model and year of manufacture. The steps below should be used as a rough guide to help you find your way.

For newer Samsung TVs:

  1. Hit the Menu button on your Samsung remote, then select Menu > Settings > All Settings.
  2. Navigate to “Terms & Privacy” or “Terms and Policy” (look in the “General & Privacy” menu if necessary).
  3. Select Privacy Choices > Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy.
  4. Opt out of data gathering using “Enable to make content and advertising on Smart TV more interactive)”.
  5. Use the “Consent status” option to disable options like “I consent to Viewing Information Services on this Device” and “I consent to Interest-Based Advertisements.”
  6. Now head to General & Privacy > Voice and review the privacy policy for the included voice assistants you have activated (to opt out, withdraw your consent).

Can’t find these options? You might have an older model, in which case:

  1. Launch the Smart Hub then head to Settings > Support > Terms & Policy (or Terms and Policy > Privacy Choices).
  2. Use this menu to disable SyncPlus, Marketing, and Voice Recognition Services.

Disable Data Tracking on Vizio (SmartCast) TVs

The instructions for Vizio TVs are identical whether you have a new (SmartCast) or old (VIA TV) model:

  1. Hit the “Menu” button on your remote and select System > Reset & Admin.
  2. Highlight “Viewing Data” and use the right arrow on your remote to turn the setting “Off.”
  3. Adjust advert tracking preferences under the “Advertising” menu.

Disable Data Tracking on Roku (TCL, Hisense, Philips, Sharp) TVs

Roku is the platform of choice for brands like TCL and Hisense, among many others:

  1. From the Home screen, select Settings > Privacy.
  2. Under “Smart TV Experience”, disable “Use info from TV inputs” to disable ACR.
  3. You can also limit ad tracking under “Advertising” (and reset the tracking ID).
  4. Lastly, Select “Never Allow” under “Voice” to disable microphone access. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean your voice won’t be recorded, but that it won’t be used to improve speech recognition.
  5. You can also use the Microphone Access > Channel Microphone Access to block certain channels from accessing your microphone (but not the Roku software itself).

Note: After disabling these settings, you might find that Roku will ask you to enable these settings again under the guise of “enhancing” your TV experience.

Disable Data Tracking on Android TV (Sony)

If you have a Sony TV, first disable ACR (known as Samba TV):

  1. Launch the Settings menu then select “Device Preferences” or “System.”
  2. Select “Samba Interactive TV” and toggle it off to disable ACR.

You can also more broadly opt out of advertising:

  1. Launch Settings > About > Legal Information.
  2. Opt out of any data-collecting practices you like.
  3. Head to Settings > Privacy > Usage & Diagnostics to disable Google’s broader crash reports, diagnostics, and data usage.

Disable Data Tracking on Amazon Fire TVs

Amazon puts all of its important privacy options in the same place:

  1. Launch Settings and navigate to Preferences > Privacy Settings.
  2. Now disable Device Usage Data, Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage, and Interest-Based Ads.

Avoid Setting Up Voice Assistants

Many smart TVs now come with a choice of voice assistants including Alexa and Google Assistant. These require your permission to work, and you’ll usually be asked to pick an assistant and agree to a privacy policy when you first press the button on your remote.

Setting up a voice assistant on a 2020 LG CX smart TV.
Tim Brookes / How-To Geek

Alternatively, don’t. If you never set up the assistant, you’ll never be providing your approval. You might be invited to do this on the first setup (or after factory resetting the unit), so tread carefully when setting up your device. Make sure that you only consent to mandatory agreements, rather than the optional ones.

Disconnecting or Resetting Your Smart TV Works Too

To completely defeat smart TV tracking, disable internet access entirely. If you never connect your TV to the internet, it’s much harder for it to spy on you. The one exception is when you pair a companion smartphone app with your TV to use as a remote (so don’t do that either).

Doing this effectively turns your smart TV into a dumb TV. You’ll need to seek alternative methods of using streaming apps or renting movies, but over-the-air antenna services should still work just fine. You’ll also miss out on software updates that could fix issues and add new features.

Person connecting an Ethernet cable to the Netgear Nighthawk MK93S main router.
Jordan Gloor / How-To Geek

If you connect your smart TV to the internet via Ethernet and have never set up a Wi-Fi connection, simply unplug the network cable. Otherwise, you’ll need to find the Wi-Fi setting in your TV’s Settings menu (usually under “Network” or “Connectivity”) and then either disable Wi-Fi altogether or use an option like “Forget This Network.”

Another option is to reset your TV to factory settings, an option you will find buried somewhere in a Settings menu. You’ll need to set up your TV from scratch if you go this route, and you’ll get a chance to reject any privacy policies you may have agreed to the first time around. You’ll also lose any custom picture profiles, input labels, and apps you have downloaded.

Dumb TV? Get a Streaming Box

You probably want to access streaming services like Netflix, free resources like YouTube, or even rental services like Apple TV. Without an internet connection, your smart TV can’t do any of that. Instead, you’ll need to invest in a streaming box.

Before you do, be aware that even the box you choose is likely gathering data about you. Streaming services will gather data about what you watch and when you watch it, plus the devices you are using. YouTube makes a note of everything you watch to serve you video recommendations.

Familiarize yourself with the data collection practices of companies like Apple and Google. Apple is a hardware manufacturer that has earned a decent reputation for its robust privacy controls and App Store policies. Google is the web’s largest advertiser. This may play into your decision on whether you go for an Apple TV or a Chromecast. Roku is a budget option, but you’ll probably need to follow the guide above again.

You might feel like you can’t win, especially if you want to retain functionality like built-in apps and recommendations. While it’s true that you can’t opt out of all data collection practices, you can usually limit some of the more insidious examples like ACR.

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By John P.

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