Streaming platforms and services are becoming more and more popular as cable companies prices increase. A lot of younger consumers now are able to get their news through the internet or other mediums and rely upon these streaming services for their entertainment and movies. Even the top television studios and companies like NBC are launching their own videos on demand services such as Peacock, to try to keep up financially with larger platforms like Netflix and Hulu. As these streaming platforms grow and evolve, unfortunately so does their method of collecting your data.
How do streaming platforms collect your information? Well, while viewers focus on the onscreen action, tracking technology discreetly collects and analyzes information about their habits and uses it to target them with more relevant, traceable advertisements. Consumers are unaware that these services are storing and distributing specific details like the sitcom titles they prefer, the ads they don’t skip, their email addresses and serial numbers identifying the devices they use. Some users are aware and willingly opt-in to receive tracked ads, such as if they’ve been watching workout videos, they’ll receive advertisements for running shoes which is a good thing and how tracked advertising is not inherently bad. The problem is these streaming services and actually smart TVs are still collecting and selling this data when the consumer elects to opt-out.
Regardless of consumer consent, the data created by the services about the programming and advertisements consumers want to watch are funneled to tracking advertisers. According to The New York Times, many streaming channels, including those marketed to children, do not clearly reveal that patterns of viewers are tracked and shared. Right now the regulations are not clear enough to prevent these streaming services from collecting minors’ data.
A 2019 study from Princeton University also showed how the smart TVs running these streaming services are filled with data trackers that collect various information on consumers behind the scenes. 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.
Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton, wrote in an email to The Verge, “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.” The study also found that when attempting to disable or limit ad tracking, both Roku and Amazon Fire Stick actually collected and sent more information. The problem is there is such a lack of regulation, organization, and so much money involved in these deals between streaming services and advertisers that the tracking and surveillance will dramatically increase until some sort of rules are established. As more people turn to platforms other than cable television, it is important that we are protecting these consumers privacy and rights as well.