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How to Turn Off Smart TV Automatic Content Recognition

At The Markup, Mohamed Al Elew and Gabriel Hongsdusit write:

If you bought a new smart TV during any of the holiday sales, there’s likely to be an uninvited guest watching along with you. The most popular smart TVs sold today use automatic content recognition (ACR), a kind of ad surveillance technology that collects data on everything you view and sends it to a proprietary database to identify what you’re watching and serve you highly targeted ads. The software is largely hidden from view, and it’s complicated to opt out. Many consumers aren’t aware of ACR, let alone that it’s active on their shiny new TVs. If that’s you, and you’d like to turn it off, we’re going to show you how.

ACR screenshots everything you watch twice per second, sending the data back to the TV maker for content recommendations and targeted advertising. It doesn’t matter where the video comes from, be it a cable box, streaming service, or game console.

If the thought of having your viewing habits—however commonplace!—tracked at that level of detail makes you as queasy as it does me, The Markup’s article has instructions on turning ACR off on smart TV platforms from Roku, Samsung, and LG, a non-trivial process that takes between 10 and 37 clicks, depending on the platform. I’m happy that I have no desire to replace our 12-year-old Panasonic TV.

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Comments About How to Turn Off Smart TV Automatic Content Recognition

Notable Replies

  1. Don’t use “smart” TV features at all. Don’t connect it to your LAN. Don’t configure Wi-Fi, ever (and don’t trust that they’ll actually disconnect if you delete the configuration). If for some reason you need to temporarily connect it (maybe a firmware update), use Ethernet and disconnect it when you’re done.

    None of these companies should be trusted at all. The best of them are spying on you in order to get marketing data for advertisers. The worst are doing it on behalf of government agencies, foreign and domestic.

    Yes, this sounds paranoid. And no, I don’t have proof. But I’ve seen enough on the news that I don’t believe any corporation can be trusted anymore.

  2. Some years ago my Sony Android TV updated, and displayed a dialog that you must opt-in to data collection or else you couldn’t get any more updates. I needed updates due to Android TV stability issues*, so I had to opt in.

    I think it was related to Samba TV, but I’m not sure.

    * which I still have

  3. Isn’t it strange how industry-backed software restrictions prevent us from taking screenshots of movies and tv shows on our own devices, but ad companies are allowed to do it constantly in the background? :upside_down_face:

  4. This is NOT only for new TVs. I have 2 Samsungs, one is 1.5 yrs old, the other is more than 8 years old. After reading the article, I decided to look for those settings on both sets. While the settings weren’t quite as straightforward as listed in the article, both TVs - even the one that’s more than 8 yrs old - had active privacy settings. I carefully went thru all privacy settings on both TVs & turned them off.

  5. Great to know @sf.ross — I’m not surprised about the newer model, but I am a little surprised that the older one would have had those settings. A good reminder that we should all check our TVs.

  6. Like @Shamino, none of my TVs are ever connected to wifi or ethernet. I use Apple TV for smart TV features always. If they still sold TVs without any smart function, those are what I would buy.

  7. It took some looking around to find it on the older TV as the settings are completely different. But I’m stubborn - & very protective of my privacy - so I was determined to see if the settings were there & they were. Very surprising, given it the set is more than 8 years old.

  8. My 7-year-old LG TV had those settings in several different User Agreements, buried under multiple layers of menus. After reading the legalese it finally became clear that I could block the collection of data by NOT checking the boxes next to each agreement.

  9. Hmmm, I wonder if my 2014 Sharp Aquos has any of this?

    OK, just checked my manual and there is an are called “Smart Central” so it might. However, I’m guessing if I have never connected the TV to my network, I don’t have to worry about this, correct?

  10. So glad to have my wonderful old gas plasma Panasonic, 1080p only but the images are lovely compared to the harsh screens available today.

    Oh and it’s dumb, that too.

  11. Like others, I don’t enable network access for any of my televisions; I just leave all that to an Apple TV box.

    A couple of weeks ago I bought a new TLC television that is “powered by Amazon Fire.” It wouldn’t even let me get past the first setup screen without connecting it to Wi-Fi or ethernet. And, I have recently discovered, that when the unit is supposedly turned off (by all outward appearances) it is still listening, as Alexa devices do.

    Word to the wise.

  12. Ad companies pay big time big bucks to participate in connected TV advertising. If you use streaming services you are most probably being tracked and targeted.

  13. With newer tv’s that have over the air ATSC 3.0 tuners, you will need them connected to the internet if that station has DRM activated. This is currently a contentious issue for many.
    My old Sony from 2009 had an ethernet port for updates which as I recall were never provided.

  14. Yeah, I understand the twin causes of fear of piracy / money to be made that have led us here. But it’s a nonsensical end result for everyone actually using the devices they buy, rather than the industries behind them.

  15. I had to buy a replacement TV about four and a half years ago when our older (first flat-screen TV) expired. For some reason (think it’s because the list prices reflect the subsidies from the data harvesters?), I was unable to identify a dumb monitor from any manufacturer. I decided to go with a Sony Bravia, but had to wait for a couple of months for the mid-model-year update that would be compatible with the HD audio (forget which standard) favored by my Apple TV 4K. I wanted to wait to increase my odds of getting a set with the mod already in place, because I didn’t want anything to do with an-Internet connected TV.

    When I got the TV and started configuring it, I found that (1) I had lucked out — it was manufactured recently enough to come with the desired upgrade, but my luck had limits: (2) I was forced to configure the Google TV “feature.” After three failed attempts to get the TV to connect to my AirPort Express WiFi network, with an attempt to find a way to bypass the Google TV setup entirely, I lucked out: the firmware evidently decided that three times go for all, and it gave me the option to come back at an unspecified future date to “try again later,” which of course I never have.

    I wish there some way to get Congresscritters to stop wasting time on trying to break up Apple and instead ban all personal data collection and transmission by all electronic devices.

  16. How about very simple legislation that says any data harvesting requires 1) explicit permission by the user/owner and 2) consent cannot be required in order to render a device or service functional. Allow one sole exception: address for billing purposes only.

    I bet lobby groups would immediately start fighting such a bill with the argument “it will make devices and services more expensive” as if consumers somehow weren’t able to put a price tag on their own privacy. Lobbyists, it’s called opportunity cost.

  17. Several years ago someone with Snitch (or equivalent) looked at network traffic from their TV after setting all this to ‘off’. Shockingly, it was still sending it. Can you imagine? Shocked, we all were.

    The only answer is to not connect it. Some people open the TV and unsolder things, because some of these TVs will find open Wifi to call home with. Amazon devices will use the Amazon-whatever magic connection technology to get around not explicitly being connected.

    Next time you meet someone that works for Samsung et al tell them you’ve installed a webcam in their bathroom… see what they say. Ask them why this is fundamentally different.

    Merry Christmas to us!

  18. I’m relatively cool with netflix knowing what I watch on netflix or pluto what I watch on pluto, and maybe even selling that on if I’ve agreed to it. Not cool, but its better than…

    I’m not cool with the maker of my TV spying on EVERYTHING that goes on my screen (airplay from laptop, say, or video calls, or holiday photos).

  19. Adam, thank you for the linked article, without which there would not be the comments.

    Thank you for that advice on installing an update (which I have never done, because the television is not and was not ever connected to anything networked). But someday, I might get a new television that requires a connection to be set up, as @mschmitt and @bb1 have reported.

    Thank you for reporting this. It’s definitely worth a try.

    As implied above, I watch over-the-air television, often that has been recorded. (I have a wonderful Magnavox DVR that apparently has not been manufactured for several years, and I dread the day it dies.) Can someone confirm that a DVR with a tuner that predates ATSC 3 could record an ATSC 3 broadcast (because of backwards compatibility) without being affected by DRM or the watermark? (I understand that I would be giving up both video and audio quality compared to ATSC 3.)

  20. My understanding is no since there is no backwards compatibility between the two systems except that 3.0 tuners can receive 1.0 broadcasts. Even if converter boxes are made, the output would probably not be HD and if so DRM would probably take over. But it appears that the current standard is going to be around for some time as many major cities have no ATSC 3.0 transmissions so your current DVR will still be usable for some time.

  21. Ah, I must have read the Wikipedia article too quickly and interpreted it as I hoped rather than as it is. Now I’ll hope that stations will broadcast the old standard in parallel, when they start broadcasting the new standard. Or maybe my DVR will die before the switchover.

  22. From what I’ve read, the stations that are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0 still have their 1.0 counterparts working as well but since there has to be some sharing regarding the towers, the 1.0 signals could change (ie could be weaker or stronger) if they’re on another tower or vice versa. I think it’s going to take some time and the 1.0 signals are not going away anytime soon since many tv’s don’t have the newer tuner and some manufacturers like LG are not putting them in their sets, in LG’s case it’s a patent issue as I recall.

  23. My Sony Smart TV is constantly asking to add my Google account info (which I haven’t done.) Recently, it began pestering me to upgrade.
    So glad you mentioned this, perhaps I’ve avoided the nonsense that you encountered.
    I need internet access on this TV (for Netflix, Apple TV etc.) - so disabling LAN/Wi-fi is not an option.

  24. Unless you use an external streambox. Of course, then you need to decide how much you can trust the manufacturer of your streambox.

    For my household, we’re using Apple TVs. I trust Apple’s position on privacy far more than I trust Google or Samsung. (Apple has made mistakes, but I don’t think they’ve ever knowingly lied to the public - unlike Google and Samsung, which definitely have).

  25. This is what I do. Keep the TV itself OFF the internet by not connecting it, and use the Apple TV box for streaming content. It works well - the interface is far better than other streaming interfaces, and I also trust Apple is not violating our privacy.

    I just don’t like that d!#% remote they have, but if it ever breaks, I’ll get the new one.

  26. I’m not even sure where our Apple Remote(s) are! We now only use an iPhone or iPad “Remote” functions from the upper-right-hand swipe down screen (Control Center). Even the iPhone version gives you about three times the surface are of that ridiculous little remote! :crazy_face:

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