/ Technology

Is your smart TV watching you?

TV in eye

Targeted advertising is big business, and you are the product. You might be used to this online, but what if your smart TV was snooping on you and using that to serve you ads? Well, that’s exactly what could be happening.

When you agree to your smart TV’s T&Cs, did you know you could be giving permission for the manufacturer to track what you watch? Is this an invasion of your privacy?

Smart TV spying: the story so far

I’ve nothing against smart TVs. As Which?’s TV reviewer for, I buy, test and recommend plenty of them each year. However, our investigation has found that smart TVs can track you every time you change channel, press a button on the remote or visit a website using the browser.

This can give you more personalised recommendations for things to watch, but your data could also be used to provide targeted advertising on your smart TV’s homescreen.

Some TVs allow you to block tracking, but this can result in stripped back smart TV features that are almost unusable. In some cases we found that if you disagreed with the TV’s T&Cs you couldn’t even access the apps and web browser on your TV.

Plus, if you’re unhappy with TV tracking you could struggle to return it to the shop, as this could be viewed by the retailer as a moral objection, rather than a fault covered by your statutory rights.

Too smart for their own good

I think smart TVs have become too smart for their own good. Manufacturers should keep tracking to a minimum, be 100% transparent about what they’re doing, and give you options to opt out that don’t mean you lose significant features.

Taking this one step further, should you be able to choose whether ads are displayed on your smart TV homescreen? After all, you don’t want them popping up on your PC’s desktop or on your smartphone home screen, so why should a TV be any different?

Do you think that smart TVs tracking what you do is a worrying development, or are you happy to accept this if you get more personalised services?

Comments
Profile photo of Lee Beaumont
Member

While I do not have a smart TV this is something I do now.

I do some work for a market research company and when I watch things via ITVPlayer / BBCIPlayer and DVD’s via VLCPlayer my webcam is turned on and the company is tracking what parts of the screen I watch.

It started off last year with ITVPlayer due to the adverts. But it’s grown & pretty much works on everything I stream now.

Some people will find this very uneasy and I do not agree with Smart TVs doing this. But as I get paid for it I am happy to help companies out.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Since roadside advertising has virtually disappeared, TV commercials are avoided through the use of PVR’s, and shopping is done on-line nowadays, attracting our attention and influencing our purchasing intentions has become increasingly difficult. Newspapers and magazines are still heavily dependent on advertising but it is very easy to ignore it so commercial organisations are on the look-out for any alternatives. I find it annoying that on-line browsing is increasingly affected by targetted advertising picking up on products I have looked at elsewhere; I have to accept that is the price I have to pay to read an on-line version of a newspaper because I am no longer buying a paper copy. However, I draw the line at targetted and personally aimed advertising being channelled into our living room through a TV set with no neutral way of preventing it. If we have friends round, or staying with us, and spend some time watching a film, are we to have a resumé of our recent spending aspirations presented to us on-screen for perusal and an inevitable conversation topic? I am surprised that Terms & Conditions that enable this without a no-penalty opt-out facility are not substantively classified as inherently unfair.

Profile photo of VynorHill
Member

By connecting my laptop to the ‘ordinary’ television I have most of the smart features of the expensive set. So far, my surfing habits have not generated any (obvious) targeted advertisments. I would take exception to a television that did this to me and I hope enough people would do the same to influence the manufacturers and content providers to back off. If the televisions did not sell, this intrusion would be seen as counter-productive. Of course, if people were unaware of this until after the purchase of a smart set, there should be some way of legally protesting. Not only would they be cross at the intrusion, but they would be angry at the loss of facilities, if these were conditional on targeted ads. If the shop (in what ever form) did not make these terms and conditions clear to their customers, they could also be taken to task for negligence. In this uncertain world companies seem to get away with a great deal while insisting that it is all for our benefit. I wonder how long it will be before society catches up and calls time on such activities?

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

The latest “smart” device in the US actually takes a voice print so it knows it is you ! This is stored with your address and cards etc by Amazon.

Whether the EU will have any effects on these TV’s etc remains to be seen. The UK is seen to be very much the uncaring nation in the EU on digital freedoms. Possibly because Europeans have long memories on police states unlike the UK or US.

Profile photo of David999
Member

Thanks for the useful article, I will NOT be buying a Smart TV and if I did I would specify to the retailer that I wanted the ability to turn off tracking still be able to use it.

I object to being FORCED to watch ads, for this reason I unregistered from 4OD who make you site through 3 x 3 minute ad breaks if you are trying to find a specific scene.

4OD refuse to display the content if you have adblock.and treat the customer with real contempt and they wonder why people download content.

I recently invested a massive £9.99 in a NowTV box (AKA a ROKU box) but did not subscribe to Sky or any other channels, instead I installed something called Plex, it provides a Netflix like interface to my downloaded content and it can even serve it to me via the internet on my mobile. It shows trailers from YouTube and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad when you consider, No Ads, no subscription and no cost.

I guess one can only hope that app developers will bring out blocking software that maintains functionality. I use adblock and a firefox plugin called Ghostery that is currently blocking 5 trackers from this web page AddThis, Google Analytics, Gravatar, Omniture & Reddit.

I also use the Better Privacy plugin that prevents the Flash storage area being used for cookies that are not deleted when you delete your cookies. Anything missed by these is deleted by ccleaner.

Why do I use these, well in marketing it is called Retargetting, so when you leave Facebook or any other website you will get ads following you. Some sites like ZDnet have 16 trackers!

NO THANKS

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

David999 I see you block Omniture I take it you are not a BT customer like myself. I registered a complaint about it,you see in BT,s new American email service I blocked it and all others using the well liked =adblockplus+ Ghostery . The result =blocked from accessing emails by blackened webpage, I had to allow omiture to access BT Mail. As I have various security programs including paid for ones up comes=this webpage is NOT secure and can be attacked by Jscript viruses. I have 2 other email programmes NONE of them do this.I personally think Which is doing a good job for the public and that is proved by many posters here suddenly getting help from the companies they have trouble with. Now that cant be bad for no financial outlay.

Member
MollyB says:
29 August 2014

How hypocritical of Which? to criticize 3rd party internet services for tracking their customers. Why don’t Which? practice what they preach and stop tracking people visiting the Which webpages.

Which have a poor record when it comes to standing up for consumer privacy issues – how many times have Which? mentioned Snowden? and the can of worms he revealed.

Get a Grip

Member
Emma says:
21 October 2014

Technology just keeps getting better but also scarier

Member
Emma says:
21 October 2014

Internet is mostly full of trollups trolling keyboard warriors cowardly humiliating other’s

Profile photo of Stubbles
Member

Reasons to be cheerful are CRT.
Having read the article ‘The spy in your tv’ I decided to stick to my old CRT until such time as the spy can be disabled without loss of function.
There never used to be T&C’s for a tv set and we don’t expect them any more than we do for any other household item. The manufacturers seem to have forgotten that we are the customers and we have the money, we do them a favour in choosing their brand so if any T&C’s are to be set it should be by us. My only T&C is that I don’t want any T&C’s for my TV. Nor do I want to be spied on, have targeted adds or my previous viewing history revealed.
Which ? please keep pushing manufacturers to change their tracking policies etc. because until they do I wont be going smart even though I would love to buy a new tv in 2015

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Four months on from the original article. I wonder what if anything has changed.

Member
brian says:
9 February 2015

BBC News 9th Feb 2015….

“Samsung is warning customers to avoid discussing personal information in front of their smart television set.

The warning applies to TV viewers who control their Samsung Smart TV using its voice activation feature.

Such TV sets ‘listen’ to every conversation held in front of them and may share any details they hear with Samsung or third parties, it said.

Privacy campaigners said the technology smacked of the telescreens, in George Orwell’s 1984, which spied on citizens.”

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

It won’t be long until the TV stops listening if it’s anything like the apps on smart TVs. Orwell had an interesting insight into the future but never predicted the obsolescence of household products.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Here’s the link for those who are interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-31296188

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

From the link: “Smart-TV owners would always know if voice activation was turned on because a microphone icon would be visible on the screen, it said.”

Why does this remind me of claims that the Titanic was unsinkable? But all credit to Samsung for letting us know.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Yes I wont be buying a smart TV or for that matter a smart electric/gas meter which checks out your house usage of all devices connected to the electric system for use by commercial firms to target you.. Your iphone has a backdoor to the GCHQ they admitted it.And Stingray a receiving unit for cell-net reception lining the streets of the US cities the device used by the FBI for “terrorists” is being used to listen to human rights workers in the US, one has been charged on its evidence. Or how about the licence detectors used in the US to record your actions in your car and focused on the driver not the licence plate again not denied. Nothing is secret anymore for the 99%