Yes, Your Smart TV is Spying On You (here's how to stop it)

Category: Television

Every television sold these days is advertised as a Smart TV. Behind the screen, these TVs are computers with an operating system, a hard drive, and Internet connectivity. They also have cameras, a microphone, and sophisticated software that allows them to collect and sell your viewing data. And because they are constantly connected, the same risks (malware and hacking) that apply to computers also apply to smart TVs. Read on to learn about the privacy and security risks of smart TVs, and what you can do to minimize them...

How to Stop Smart TV Spying

What makes a smart TV smart? When they were first introduced, it was the ability to connect to the Internet, and bring streaming channels and movies to your living room. Later, built-in microphones and cameras added features such as voice commands, hand gestures, and facial recognition, allowing you to control your viewing without so much as picking up the remote.

But both the internet connectivity and those advanced interaction features can be a liability. If a hacker gains access to your connected TV by exploiting a vulnerability, they could use those built-in cameras and microphones to spy on you and your conversations, while you sit transfixed on your couch. And if they hack your smart TV, they can use your Wi-Fi network to gain access to other devices on your home network, such as desktops, laptops, baby monitors, and even your "smart" appliances.

But the larger threat to your privacy comes from within. Smart TV sets use a surveillance technique called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) to figure out what you're watching. By "watching what you watch," whether it's on streaming services like Netflix, cable, satellite or broadcast TV channels, even DVDs or video games, ACR can identify the content by comparing snippets of onscreen data with a database of known recorded works. If you've ever used Shazam on your phone to identify a song, you can see show this would work on your TV.

Is your TV spying on you?

ACR does have some legitimate uses. It can be used to identify copyright violations, and also to personalize your viewing. If it can determine what kind of shows you watch, it may be used to recommend similar content. But it exists primarily to collect your viewing data and sell it to data brokers. Your viewing profile is bundled with your IP address, from which your approximate location and socioeconomic status can be determined. You can then be targeted with ads on your TV, smartphone, and desktop computer for products that fit your profile.

A study done by Northeastern University found that many smart TVs sent the ACR data to Amazon, Facebook, and Google. ACR viewing data was also sent to Netflix, even if the service was not present or activated on a set. Targeted ads are common on the Internet. You visit a website selling shoes, and you see ads for shoes. The same is happening as you "surf" the content on your TV screen.

In 2017, Vizio was fined $2 million by the FTC for selling this data without disclosing the surveillance to customers. Such disclosures are now mandatory. The "permissions" are granted (on an opt-out basis) by the user during setup, and the option to disable data collection is available in the TV settings. But each manufacturer calls it something different, and it can be hard to find the privacy settings. Samsung calls it Viewing Information Services, on Vizio sets it's Viewing Data. LG calls it Live Plus, and Sony has Samba Interactive.

Consumer Reports has instructions for turning off ACR on most major TV brands, including Hisense, Insignia, LG, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TCL, Toshiba and Vizio.

What About Those Cameras and Microphones?

Built-in cameras can be used to enable hand gestures to control your TV. LG sets with embedded cameras have supported hand gestures for a decade. Sony's Bravia Cam allows you to use hand signals to pause, adjust volume or turn off the TV. But it will also scold you if you're too close to the screen. Microphones and speech recognition tech allows you to change the channel or search for a show.

As I mentioned earlier, a determined hacker with knowledge of a remotely exploitable vulnerability could use your TV set as a way to watch you. Even if you're not concerned about hackers, do you really need to control your TV by pointing or grunting?

Check the settings to see if these features can be disabled on your TV. Or if you can find the camera on the face of your smart TV, a piece of black tape can be used to cover it.

In closing, here are a few more tips to boost the privacy and security of your smart TV. Find out what kinds of data your specific model is collecting, what is done with that data, and how you can limit that. This information should be in your manual, or on the vendor's website. Don’t rely on factory settings. Explore the privacy settings on your set, and change any default passwords if you can. Check the manufacturer's website to see if there are any updates or security patches that can be applied.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Are you concerned about your smart TV spying on you? Tell me what think, and what you've done about it. Post your comment or question below...

Ask Your Computer or Internet Question

  (Enter your question in the box above.)

It's Guaranteed to Make You Smarter...

AskBob Updates: Boost your Internet IQ & solve computer problems.
Get your FREE Subscription!


Check out other articles in this category:

Link to this article from your site or blog. Just copy and paste from this box:

This article was posted by on 28 Jan 2022

For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.

Prev Article:
Geekly Update - 26 January 2022

The Top Twenty
Next Article:
Ting-a-Ling! Save on Your Mobile Phone Bill

Most recent comments on "Yes, Your Smart TV is Spying On You (here's how to stop it)"

Posted by:

John Tyler
28 Jan 2022

The manufacturers should have a warning on the box for smart TVs that it has Automatic Content Recognition turned on and what it does. If they don't want you to know it shouldn't be installed or turned off by default. They could also have a warning on the protective packing with instructions on how to disable it when you go through the initial setup. They should also be required to pay you a monthly fee for information that they collect if you chose to have it turned on.
This is a Trojan Horse that the consumers aren't aware of and should be illegal unless notified at the time of purchase.

Posted by:

Jeff Ferguson
28 Jan 2022

Yes, I knew about such things. Therefore my new TV is just a monitor! It is not connected in anyway to the Internet, just via HDMI-1 thru which every function works via streamers, DVD, etc. Switching is done again via another device.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

I do not have a smart TV in my home and don't plan to as I do not have TV service at my rural home.Somehow I am able to live my life without TV and I have been here for 9 years now.

I suppose if I bought a TV,it would be a used one as long as it has a good picture.Presently,any TV I do watch is at my desktop computer on a couple of streaming channels I am interested in.

The precautions stated in this article could be applied to the smart speakers that are the rage nowadays.I imagine they can spy on you as well.Beware!!

Posted by:

Cold City
28 Jan 2022

How scary for these devices are sold in so called totalitarian regimes...

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

I have found no "camera" on my TV. Where would it be located?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I logged into your router and activated the secret homing beacons. But I can't quite make out the make and model of your TV. Help me, and I'll help you.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

Thank you, Bob! I did not know about this. Am I surprised? Of course not. As Cold City above has mentioned, this is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Which is where we are headed unless we do something about it.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
28 Jan 2022

I'll start with a note for Dave:

Look at the front of your TV. If you see a small dark circle (usually about one-eighth inch in diameter, give or take), that may be your TVs camera. Do you have a laptop computer with a camera? If so, the camera on your TV will look very similar to the one on your laptop. Also, if you do have a camera on your TV, there will be settings for it somewhere in your TVs settings/configuration. My Samsung TV has a 'Settings' button on the remote control that opens the settings app on the TVs screen. I found it useful to go through my TVs settings, by changing a few of the defaults I was able to 'customize' my experience a bit. Also, the absence of any voice or gesture settings would indicate that there is no camera or microphone built into your TV. I hope this helps you Dave.

I had to get a new TV in 2020. I got an older Samsung model for a very attractive price ($200.00 give/take). I checked, and it does not have either a camera or a microphone built into it, or if it does, they are very well hidden :). I also have a Samsung phone, and a Samsung monitor for my desktop PC. The monitor supports audio, but I don't use it because I have a fairly nice if aged Altec-Lansing PC sound system that still works very well for me. I have an external camera for my desktop, but the monitor does not have either a camera or a microphone built in. I get both of those functionalities from my external camera system, and I prefer it that way because I can disconnect the camera from its USB port when I'm not using it.

As for my 'new' Samsung TV, I had to use my PC to go to Samsung's website to access my account information. I was able to control how much information they collect (from all my Samsung devices), delete as much as possible of what they have already collected, and request that they not sell my data. My TV does access the Internet to provide streaming services such as streaming apps and Samsung+ streaming channels. When I started streaming video using Roku devices (before I got this Samsung TV), I re-organized my home network. My ATT router supports a Guest Network service, so I enabled it and set it up to use WPA2 (the best security protocol the device supports) for secure connections, renamed it and gave it its own shared key/password. This should make it as secure as the primary LAN. I have all my streaming and Iot devices connected to this secondary LAN and my desktop, laptops, and other Internet connected communications devices connected to the primary LAN (PCs, laptops, tablets, etc.), effectively isolating these two classes of devices from each other. I check the router's logs monthly to see if any unknown devices have connected. So far, so good. I have not detected any unknown device connections.

As a foot note, I perform monthly, bi-annual, and annual security and maintenance routines on my devices and my LANs in the hope that I will discover any unwanted intrusion(s) or malware infections, etc. Again, so far, so good. Nothing detected - yet.

I hope this post helps anyone who reads it,


Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

All of these features should require opting in, not opting out.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

We have a very inexpensive and basic ONN Roku smart TV with a dumb remote as it seamlessly gets us to Roku for our streaming needs.
I find no mention of microphone or camera in the specs so hopefully we are okay.
We go online via ethernet not wireless, and cannot think of any other smart things that would be in our home (except our teenagers).
We use a "throwaway" email address for everything on the TV.
We also use an older version of remotes that are dumbed down and not smart in any way.
And a VPN should take care of the accuracy of the zipcode bundling.
We are believers these days that we really are NOT that interesting as individuals, and don't care too much about our "viewing profile" being sold as it is inaccurate.
Unless anyone knows different ..........

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

"How scary for these devices are sold in so called totalitarian regimes..."
Right you are, Cold City.
In Orwell's 1984, every citizen had a device like that at home so The State could spy on them.

Posted by:

28 Jan 2022

Senior Citizen here. Just recently my "Smart, Samsung TV" had some kind of a Blow Out when I left the house for a few minutes, leaving the set on. When I returned, my home was filled with a Strong Chemical Odor. Didn't figure out until later the TV was the Odor Problem. The upper half of the picture, when on, is darker than the lower half and the Odor returns when I turn it on so I just quit using it. I'm using my Older Sanyo TV now. What would cause that strong chemical odor? I've never had a TV smell like that when it was experiencing problems. Should I remove it from my home for Safety reasons?

Posted by:

29 Jan 2022

Thank you BobRankin, waking us up to the evils of ACR.
I have the alexa/siri integration within the 2021 LG OLED smartieTV, as well as its remote (which is also a wirelles device and a MIC).
Unfortunately and at a minimum, a user should connect a smartieTV to the network periodically. Like most software driven devices, they require software updates.
I would have been happier just purchasing a OLED monitor but such a device no longer exists. Although I have found that the LG WebOS does better/quicker job with Netflix, as the LG remote makes it a single button access.

Posted by:

29 Jan 2022

I have an older Samsung TV that is not "Smart" but do have a Roku streaming stick with voice remote, which I have never used. It is powered by a "smart" outlet strip that switches it off when the TV is turned off. Bad enough that the cell phone seems to be always listening, don't need the TV listening when it's off!

Posted by:

29 Jan 2022

For those worried about the "state" spying on you through your TV, relax. The danger is not the state, it is all the businesses you interact with and those that they sell information to. Your data has been monetized for their advantage.

Posted by:

29 Jan 2022

My LG TV recently announced some changes to their privacy policies which I was asked to either approve or read before approving. I usually look to get an idea about the details. But, really, going through these 'details' takes a lot of time and the possibility of multiple calls to a lawyer. I think they count on most people just clicking "OK".

And, I'm not so suspicious of government spying on me as I am of multi-million dollar corporations.

Posted by:

Wild Bill
30 Jan 2022

Marj, it sounds like your TV has a dual-power-supply backlight system and one of the supplies (for the upper half of the screen) has "smoked". The smell may be from overheating of components, releasing gases from varnishes, plasticizers and electrolytes. While likely not terminally toxic, the gases are not pleasant or healthy and the fact that they continue to be produced may suggest a potential fire hazard. You should probably get it repaired,if still in warranty, or replace it if not, depending on age and value. Out-of-warranty repair would likely run $200 to $300 or more.

Posted by:

30 Jan 2022

Yes cal67 you do have to worry. Verizon announced several months that the government pays them to access your data. They don't need a warrant they just have to pay a fee and get all they want from any of the tech companies.

Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions

*     *     (* = Required field)

    (Your email address will not be published)
(you may use HTML tags for style)

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! Comments of a political nature are discouraged. Please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are reviewed, and may be edited or removed at the discretion of the moderator.

NOTE: Please, post comments on this article ONLY.
If you want to ask a question click here.

Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter

Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy     RSS/XML

Article information: AskBobRankin -- Yes, Your Smart TV is Spying On You (here's how to stop it) (Posted: 28 Jan 2022)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved