The transition to internet-connected TVs that can run applications and stream from all of your favorite services has been mainly positive, liberating consumers from the restricted possibilities of local broadcast channels and giving a plethora of alternatives to traditional cable subscriptions. There’s a reason why our list of the best TVs is nearly completely comprised of smart TV.
However, there is one drawback to smart TVs. And that’s only a sampling of the intrusive commercials and painfully comprehensive information that TV manufacturers – including all of the greatest TV brands – can gather about your household’s watching habits.
Your TV is watching everything you do, from what applications you open to what shows you watch, and reporting back so that the information gathered may be used to customize adverts to you or sold to other parties (again, mostly advertisers).
It’s one of the reasons TVs have gotten so inexpensive in recent years. Since these advertising and data collection options give corporations an extra income stream, making TVs viable beyond the selling of physical hardware. This profitable part of the smart TV market is a cornerstone for every competitor on the TV aisle, with smart TVs having software created by data-hungry corporations such as Google and Amazon.
Smart TVs collect a lot of information by using a range of technologies, from tracking what shows you watch and which applications you access to correlating you’re watching statistics with online surfing from other devices via location and IP address information. In the best-case scenario, that data is utilized to serve you more relevant adverts and content recommendations. Most of the time, though, it is also sold to third parties.
Worst of all? When you originally set up your TV, you most certainly permitted them to do everything. When you first switch on a new smart TV, you’ll be confronted with a few brief screens of user agreements. They are seldom read because people are eager to go online and start streaming. Those short displays, on the other hand, typically include user agreements that are dozens, if not hundreds, of pages long. It also entails allowing the TV to track your viewing habits.
While there is plenty to be written about the ethical issues that these approaches present, one thing is certain: people are looking for a way out.
So, to prevent the deluge of intrusive advertisements and creepy tracking, here are a few things you can do.
Opt-out Ads and tracking
Finally, the simplest way is to opt-out of adverts and monitor them whenever possible. Because of legislation such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s 2020 Consumer Privacy Act, TVs sold in the United States must provide consumers with a choice to opt-out of most monitoring and data collecting.
The most egregious culprit is Automated Content Recognition (ACR). To identify what material you’re watching, this technology uses a tiny sampling of the pixels on your screen as a fingerprint. This provides the TV with a significant amount of information about your viewing habits, whether you’re streaming through an independent app or watching from an external device.
Turning off ACR with a simple setup change will stop most data collection. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The methods used to gather data vary widely across manufacturers. The process is made somewhat opaque by burying the options deep inside the settings and labeling monitoring tools with innocuous-sounding names.
Opting out of these activities will assist you in breaking the majority of your negative habits, but it is not a panacea. Any associated device will almost certainly gather data. You will continue to be offered adverts and content suggestions, but they may not be tailored to your choices.
There’s also the obvious concern that television companies may refuse to completely comply with an opt-out request. This is not an unjustified worry, since some prominent businesses have been caught acting unethically with these methods. Trusting them to obey a checkbox or a settings change that eliminates a significant income source is shaky.
Try a Pi-hole
One way is to actively block just the unwanted traffic on your network if you want to keep streaming while filtering out bothersome advertisements and monitoring. Using a Pi-hole, a Raspberry Pi-based device that applies adblocking scripts to every device on your network and allows you to monitor outgoing traffic is rather straightforward to achieve.
A low-cost small PC, such as the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ or the newer Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, is all you’ll need to get started. After that, you may learn How to Block Ads Network-Wide With Pi-hole on Raspberry Pi from our sister site, Tom’s Hardware.
Lobotomize your smart TV
Another simple option to stop such invasive data practices is to switch off the internet connection at the source. Don’t connect your TV to Wi-Fi or plugin an Ethernet wire when you’re setting it up. If your smart TV isn’t linked to the internet, it’s effectively worthless. (Because certain sets require an internet connection to be completed, a TV may become inoperable.)
If you already have a smart TV, you may lobotomize it by doing a factory reset. This will remove all of your applications and settings. But it allows you to set up the TV as if it were brand new, including the option to bypass the Wi-Fi sign-in.
Like buying a stupid TV, dumbing down a smart TV, and removing the built-in capabilities you paid for will not appeal to everyone.
Buy a dumb TV
The simplest approach to keeping your television private and clutter-free is to never invite it into your house. You may get a dumb TV, which is designed just for channel surfing and receiving local broadcasts. You may read about all of your possibilities in our article How to Buy a Dumb TV – and Why You Should.
The approach, however, will not be popular with everyone because it eliminates all of the useful features that made smart TVs so desirable in the first place. You may always add some smart functionality by purchasing one of the finest streaming devices. But keep in mind that any streaming device (whether a smart TV or a streaming stick) will include some mix of data collection and advertising.
How to Turn Off Advertising and Tracking on Smart TVs
Here’s how to find the necessary menus and settings for your smart TV, categorized by brand and smart TV platform.
Amazon Fire smart TV
- Go to Settings > Preferences > Privacy Settings
- Select Device Usage Data to limit data collection
- Then Select Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage to turn off content tracking for apps and broadcast channels
- Select Interest-Based Ads to limit ad personalization
Android TV & Google TV
- Go to Settings > About > Legal Information
- Here you can disable personalized ads
On Sony TVs, you will also need to disable Samba TV
- Go to Settings > Device Preferences
- Turn off Samba Interactive TV to disable ACR
- Go to Settings > Additional Settings > General
- Select Live Plus to disable ACR
- Select Advertisements and change the setting to “Do Not Sell My Personal Information”
- Go to Settings > Additional Settings > User Agreements
Roku smart TV
- Go to Settings > Privacy
- Select Smart TV Experience to disable “Use Info from TV Inputs”
- Then Select Advertising to adjust ad tracking settings
- Select Microphone to adjust the settings for Channel Microphone Access and Channel Permissions
- Go to Settings > Support > Terms & Privacy > Privacy Choices
- Select Viewing Information Services to disable ACR
- Then Select Interest-Based Advertising to adjust ad personalization settings
- Select Voice Recognition Services to adjust voice data collection
- Go to Settings > Admin & Privacy
- Select Viewing Data to turn off ACR
- Select Advertising to adjust ad tracking