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How to Make Your Smart TV Dumb and Why You Should

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A TV that records your conversations, a refrigerator that sends your grocery list to third-party advertisers, and a thermostat that taps into your home WiFi network — it’s no surprise = smart devices are a huge privacy invasion. Many of these gadgets, especially smart TVs, come with default settings that pry into your personal life and are difficult to turn off.

Your smart TV is likely collecting more information about you than you’re comfortable with. Information you might not even be aware is being tracked. But don’t worry, there are ways to make your smart TV dumber, which can protect your privacy.

Is your smart TV spying on you?

The short answer is yes, your TV is spying on you. Smart TV manufacturers collect data about you and either uses it to personalize advertising and content recommendations or sell it to third parties who target their ads to you as well.

There are three main ways your smart TV could be spying on you:

  1. Automatic content recognition: Most smart TVs have an automatic content recognition (ACR) feature. ACR attempts to identify every show you play and make content recommendations based on that info. It monitors shows you watch on cable, streaming services, and even DVDs and Blu-rays. Consumers finally learned about ACR after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Vizio in 2017 for invading customers’ privacy.
  2. Listening to your conversations: Smart TV companies like Samsung have admitted that their TVs listen to and record what people say in front of them.  
  3. Spying on you with a camera: Smart TVs equipped with cameras may also be spying on you by taking video when you’re in the room. Why do smart TVs have cameras? For facial recognition, of course.

Hackers can cyberstalk you 

Concerns about smart TVs go deeper than invading your privacy. If TV manufacturers can gather this much information about you, what’s stopping hackers and cybercriminals from doing so as well? If you leave your TV’s smart features on, it is easier for hackers to access your network.

A history of smart TV scandals

Since smart TVs became popular, there’s been a string of scandals related to consumer privacy, including:

  • Vizio spying scandal: For several years, customers accused Vizio’s TVs of tracking their data and invading their privacy. In 2016, a group of customers filed a class action lawsuit against Vizio and in 2017, the FTC fined Vizio $2.2 million. Vizio settled the lawsuit for $17 million and started paying out affected customers in 2019.
  • Samsung snooping: In 2015, Samsung released their privacy policy regarding their smart TVs. The company warned customers about mentioning any personal or sensitive information in front of their TVs, as the Voice Recognition features could be recording them.
  • Mirai botnet: The Mirai botnet scandal exposed the privacy and security risks of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. In 2016, it took advantage of these devices by scanning huge chunks of the Internet for open ports and attempting to log in with default passwords. It infected devices one by one, assembling a botnet, then using it to infect other devices. Smart TVs as well as refrigerators, thermostats, and other Internet-connected devices were affected.
  • Weeping Angel: The CIA spied on Samsung smart TVs using a TV malware called Weeping Angel. This was revealed on Wikileaks in 2017. The app supposedly could capture audio, recover the WiFi keys the TV uses and hack the target’s network later. It could also access usernames and passwords stored on the TV browser. It even allowed recording when the TV was off.

These scandals are only a few among the many that have erupted as a result of using smart TVs. If you don’t want to learn about your TV’s security vulnerabilities from a news story (i.e. after the incident happens), then take action and disable your TV’s smart features.

How to turn off smart features on your TV

The easiest way to make your smart TV dumb is by disconnecting it from the Internet completely. Advertisers can’t find you, hackers can’t get into your network, and you have just a regular TV. If you want to watch content from streaming services, you can always hook up your laptop to your TV with an HDMI cable.

Turn off ACR

For those who don’t have the option to sever their smart TV from the Internet, there’s a second method for dumbing down a smart TV: find the ACR setting and turn it off.

ACR goes by different names depending on which company built your smart TV. As a result, finding the right settings and disabling them differs for each TV.

Vizio

  • Go to the main menu and select Admin & Privacy.
  • Select Viewing Data, then turn it off.
  • Return to the previous screen and select Advertising to turn off ad tracking.

Samsung

  • Go to Settings either from the main menu or the remote control.
  • Look for Support then scroll down to Terms & Privacy.
  • Select Privacy Choices.
  • Turn off Viewing Information Services, Voice Recognition Services, and Interest-Based Ads.

Roku

  • Press the Home button on the remote, then go to Settings.
  • Scroll down to Privacy.
  • Select Smart TV experience.
  • Uncheck Use Info from TV Inputs.

Amazon Fire TV

  • Go to Settings from the home screen or your remote.
  • Scroll until you find Preferences.
  • Click Preferences, then you’ll see your Privacy Settings.
  • In Privacy Settings, you can turn off Device Usage Data, Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage, and Interest-Based Ads.

LG

  • Go to Settings with the remote control.
  • Scroll down to Additional Settings, then General.
  • Toggle off the Live Plus option
  • Under Live Plus, you’ll see Advertisements. Toggle off Do Not Sell My Personal Information.
  • Go to Support, then Additional Settings
  • Opt-out of Terms of Use, Privacy, Viewing Information, Voice Information, Interest-Based & Cross-Device Advertising, and Live Plus Automatic Content Recognition.

Making your smart TV dumber (and safer)

Preventing companies and advertisers (and in some cases, the government) from tracking you through your TV shouldn’t be this difficult. But it is. Fortunately, reporting on smart TVs invading consumers’ privacy has been widespread, so resources exist for helping you manage all the tracking. You can easily do an Internet search for “disabling ACR [your TV model]” and find helpful tips.

Now that you know how much info smart TVs can collect on you and the risks it poses to your safety, you might consider making your smart TV dumb.

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