It has begun: Your TV could be “listening” in on everything you watch

You are being watched by your TV. Forget home privacy, or any sense of individuality. Today’s technology is being built to tell you what you like and determine who you are. It sounds fairly ridiculous until you see the evidence for yourself — this time in smart TVs “looking” at the shows you’re watching and then determining what kind of ads to display during commercials.

Nielsen announced in November 2018 that they were expanding its U.S. Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI) pilot in various smart TV platforms and national cable networks. The company will be partnering with MediaTek, a semiconductor company that currently powers more than 50 percent of all smart TVs, to advance DAI in their platforms. A+E Networks will also be joining CBS to begin replacing ads in live linear programming on select networks.

Currently, the pilot is limited to five U.S. markets, namely New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Tampa.

In true liberal double-speak, the process is being referred to as “dynamic ad insertion,” describing the move as a personalized way to engage with customers. The algorithm being used for this content recognition technology would replace cable TV ads to “fit the viewer’s specific demographic.”

Nielsen insists that this move to a more personal ad display will allow advertisers to get the most out of their inventory, as well as deliver quality content to its users.

Who’s watching whom?

A 2018 Consumer Reports study analyzed just how much personal information a smart TV can get from you. They did this by looking at five major U.S. TV brands: Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL, and Vizio. Disturbingly, the study found that smart TVs can learn a lot about you — just by the shows you watch. And no, we’re not talking about the obvious red flags, like pornographic materials or highly controversial political shows. A lot of information can be gleaned from even just seemingly harmless shows. These shows can imply your personal preferences, age, interests, or even your political leanings. (Related: Yes, your smart TV really is spying on you: Leaked docs reveal CIA secretly turned Samsung TVs into microphones that spy on your conversations.)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made it clear that smart TVs need to ask your permission first before they gather any data, but that hasn’t stopped anyone. Recall that Vizio shelled out $2.2 million after it was sued for illegally collecting data (from IP addresses to demographic information) from its customers.

Vizio claimed that it did inform its customers beforehand of their intentions, under a clause in their “smart interactivity” feature which stated that the new technology would “enable program offers and suggestions.” This entailed collecting data, but users were not aware that this was what it meant.

Convenience or freedom?

Much of the information collected by smart TVs is collated by a technology called automatic content recognition (ACR). This identifies every show you play on your TV, including cable, streaming services, over-the-air broadcasts, and even DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

As more smart TVs are finding their way into our living rooms, it is important to know how to disable ACR.

The best thing you can do is to deny permission for ACR as you set up the TV. This will require you to read each screen carefully, especially portions that relate to privacy policies and user agreements. If you already are using a smart TV and now want to turn off ACR, the settings are a little bit difficult to find.

There are manuals you can find on how to manually turn off this feature. Take note that the instructions also depend on the brand you are using.

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