Smart TVs are Watching You

Smart TVs are increasingly surveilling you at home: 

A recent study from Princeton University shows how smart TVs are filled with data trackers that collect various information on consumers behind the scenes. Brought to light by Zoe Schiffer from The Verge, smart TV’s such as Amazon’s Fire and Roku that allow consumers to stream Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. have been collecting and selling consumers’ data without their knowledge. These data trackers and companies can build broad profiles of their consumers based on shows watched and interactive advertisements which have the consumer select the advertisement to be shown.

How did they determine what kind of data and how much was being taken? The researchers built a bot that automatically installed thousands of channels on their Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. The bot impersonated consumer behavior by browsing and watching videos, movies, and shows. As soon as the bot encountered an ad, the bot would track what data was being collected and where it went.

The data collected by trackers in their study included information not specific to individuals like device type, city, and state, but also very personal data such as their device serial number, and Wi-Fi network. These specific data points being collected without consumer consent is worrying because these unique data points can be used to easily identify a specific consumer for targeting. 

What the Experts Say: Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton, wrote in an email to Schiffer, “There’s very little oversight or awareness of their practices, including where that data is being sold”. A lot of these companies and trackers who were found in 69% of Roku channels and 89% of Amazon Fire channels, have never been heard of before.