Is your television watching you as much as you watch it?
If you have a smart TV, then the answer is quite probably ‘yes’.
For the uninitiated, a smart television is one that’s connected to the internet.
It’s great for watching free content such as YouTube, ABC iView and SBS on demand, and you may need a plug-in to watch streaming services such as Netflix or Disney. More advanced smart TVs also have voice recognition tools to change channels or search for programs.
Smart TVs are, by far, the most popular retail choice and easily outsell ‘dumb’ televisions.
However, as it is connected to the internet – unless it is a very old ‘smart’ television – it is also collecting data about you, not just from your television watching habits, but via any device plugged into the television, including set-top boxes and Blu-Ray players.
Smart TVs do this with software called automatic content recognition (ACR), which compares what you are watching with a database both for content and advertising.
ACR quickly recognises what you are watching and then uses that data to build a picture of your viewing habits – which ads you sit through, which ones you skip through and general viewing habits.
Consumer advocacy group CHOICE describes them as “powerful data-harvesting machines built for the efficient collection of your personal information”.
The data collected about you can also be combined with other data sources, such as online purchases if you use the TV to buy products through apps such as Facebook and Amazon, to build a profile that includes your email address, and even your physical address.
In a landmark US court case in 2017, smart television manufacturer Vizio was fined US$17 million in a class action suit for spying on its customers. Vizio had been tracking its customers for years without telling them. US manufacturers have been forced to offer customers the choice to ‘opt in’ to ACR technology and, according to Vizio, 90 per cent do exactly that.
So at the basic level, your television is setting up what it offers to you based on what you watch. For example, if you are glued to the Great British Bake Off, you probably won’t see ads for the latest grand prix. However, on another level, ACR is collecting an astonishing volume of personal data, first on what you are watching and then through the apps you use on the television.
So what can you do?
Well, if you are okay with your television collecting data on what you watch, do nothing.
Frankly, we are almost all connected to the internet, you are reading this on a device that is constantly monitoring your online habits and data mining one way or another.
As long as you are comfortable with your television building a database on what you are watching, continue on. Between my love of Antiques Roadshow and my determination to get through the hyper-violent Ozark, our TV must be a little confused.
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If it bothers you, and it probably should, most televisions sold in Australia allow you to opt out of ACR.
But it’s not as simple as pushing a button. The disable ACR option will be in the settings or preferences menu, but is often not clearly labelled and may even be called something else.
According to CHOICE, Samsung calls it Viewing Information Services and LG calls theirs Live Plus.
If you can’t manage it yourself, it might pay to consult your retailer or find a techie friend to sort it out for you.
Are you concerned that your television may be collecting data about you? Will you consider disabling the capability? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?