How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features
- Smart TVs collect data about what you watch with a technology called automatic content recognition, or ACR.
- You can’t stop all data collection without disconnecting the set from the internet, but you can turn off ACR.
- Each smart TV company uses a different name for ACR, and the controls can be hard to find. But CR has directions below.
Your TV may know—and share—a lot of information about you.
That’s what Consumer Reports has found repeatedly since it first started reporting on data collection by smart TVs in 2015. These are sets that connect to the internet, making it easy to stream videos from services such as Hulu and Netflix. In 2018 we conducted our first extensive analysis of smart TV technology, and since then, we’ve evaluated all the TVs in our ratings for their privacy and security practices.
We’ve seen that smart TVs can collect and share significant amounts of personal data about their viewers. And so can the dozens—or even hundreds—of third-party apps that work with the platforms.
ACR: Automatic Content Recognition
Technology called automatic content recognition, or ACR, attempts to identify every show you play—including those you get via cable, over-the-air broadcasts, streaming services, and even DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The data is transmitted to the TV maker, its business partners, or both.
ACR, which goes by a variety of names depending on the TV brand, can help your set recommend shows you might want to watch. But the data can also be used for targeting ads to you and your family, and for other purposes. You can’t easily review or delete this data later.
The use of ACR technology wasn’t widely known by consumers until 2017, when Vizio got in trouble with federal and state regulators for collecting such data without users’ knowledge or consent. The company eventually paid $2.2 million to settle cases with the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New Jersey.
You can also turn off ACR after you’ve set up your TV, though sometimes the settings can be hard to find, as we discovered in a study we published in 2020.
Below are instructions for turning off ACR in the major smart TV platforms, covering sets from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio; Android TV sets from companies such as Hisense, Philips, and Sharp; Roku sets from brands including Element, Insignia, Hisense, and TCL; and Amazon Fire TV Edition sets from Insignia and Toshiba.
Even if you turn off ACR, your smart TV will continue to collect information for its manufacturer, possibly including your location, which apps you open, and more. The only way to prevent that is to avoid connecting to the internet, which means ceasing to use it as a smart TV.
Shut Off ACR on Amazon Fire TV Edition TVs
The Amazon Fire TV Edition platform is built into several models from Insignia and Toshiba that are sold through Amazon and Best Buy. Unlike other companies with smart TV platforms, Amazon says that it doesn’t use ACR technology to track all the shows you watch and that it doesn’t collect data through a cable set-top box or any other non-Amazon device connected to TVs.
However, the system does collect information on programs you watch using an antenna and through streaming apps, such as Netflix, that are available through the Fire TV platform. (Of course, if you watch anything from Amazon Prime video, the company also knows those details.)
You don’t have to have an Amazon account to use these TVs, but you will need one for some features. For example, without an account you have access to a more limited selection of streaming apps, and you won’t be able to use voice commands with Amazon Alexa. Regardless, you do have to agree to Amazon’s privacy policies and terms and conditions during the initial setup.
To turn off programming data collection, go to Settings through either the home screen or the button on the remote. Next, scroll to the right until you get to Preferences. Click that and you’ll see Privacy Settings.
Under Privacy Settings there are options for Device Usage Data, Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage, and Interest-Based Ads. All these can be turned off.
Device Usage Data collects information on how you use the TV, for marketing purposes. You can opt out, but the company says marketing offers will be less relevant to you.
Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage Data, which collects info on what you watch if you use an antenna, and the frequency and duration of your use of third-party apps. Amazon says this is used to improve its services and personalize your experience. (Note: Turning it off won’t affect data collection by Fire TV Recast device—Amazon’s over-the-air DVR—if you’re using one.)
Turning off Interest-Based Ads will affect not just your TV but also other Amazon devices, such as an Echo smart speaker. You’ll still see ads—on the Fire TV Edition television, other Amazon devices and websites, and related third-party apps—but they won’t be personalized.
We used a 2020 Insignia TV to compile these directions, but the settings should be identical on all Amazon Fire TVs. On 2018 and earlier models, the settings appear under Applications rather than Preferences.
Shut Off ACR on Android TVs
A number of television brands use the Google Android TV operating system for at least some of their sets, including Hisense, Philips, Sony (also covered separately, below), and TCL.
Google says that the Android TV platform itself doesn’t use ACR technology to capture specific content that’s being watched. However, the individual TV brands that use Android TV may do so, and they have their own privacy policies and user agreements that let you limit data collection.
Google might not employ ACR, but it does collect data from TVs that use its smart TV platform—and there’s no opting out of Google’s policies during setup.
However, you can control location services and choose whether or not to let the TV collect diagnostic information that the company says it uses to improve an Android TV’s performance.
Once the setup has been finalized, you can limit the data an Android TV collects that’s related to targeted advertisements. Look for the Settings icon at the top of the home page, scroll down until you see About, and click on Legal Information. There you’ll be able to opt out of receiving personalized ads, though you can’t opt out of Google ads.
We used a 2020 model from TCL to provide these instructions. TCL has its own user agreements, found under Settings, then About. You can opt out of Viewing Information Services, which is its ACR technology, but if you do that the TV won’t provide program recommendations.
Note that many TCL sets use the Roku system, described below.
Shut Off ACR on LG TVs
Almost all LG smart TVs now use the company’s webOS platform.
Controlling your set’s data collection is just a bit different on LG’s 2020 sets from how it was on 2019 models. Use the Settings button on the remote control, then scroll down to Additional Settings, then General. You’ll see several entries, including Live Plus, which is LG’s ACR technology. You can toggle this off, or click on it to get an explanation of what it does and what happens when you turn it on.
Live Plus is controlled by the Live Plus User Agreement. LG says Live Plus is required if you want to access certain interactive services, but we don’t think you’ll miss anything by turning it off.
Below Live Plus, click on Advertisements, and you’ll have the option to limit ad tracking. Under Advertisements is a toggle switch for Do Not Sell My Personal Information, which stops your personal data from being sold to third parties.
You can select All, or opt out of each of these agreements individually.
If you opt out of Viewing Information, you may lose access to some smart TV features, including program recommendations. This will also disable LG Channels—previously called Channel Plus—which provides almost 200 free streaming channels from companies including Pluto TV and Xumo. There’s also a trade-off with Voice Information. Turn it off and you lose the ability to control certain aspects of the TV using voice commands.
On 2019 sets, it’s slightly different. Press the Settings button on the remote control, then scroll down to All Settings at the bottom of the list and click General. Scroll down to get to two settings: About This TV and Additional Settings.
Once again, you can select All or opt out of each agreement individually.
Shut Off ACR on Roku TVs
Close to a dozen TV brands now use the Roku TV platform, including Element, Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia, JVC, Philips, RCA, Sanyo, TCL, and Westinghouse.
To turn off ACR, press the Home button on the remote, then look for Settings. Scroll down until you see Privacy, click on that, then look for Smart TV experience, as shown in the photo above. You’ll see listings for Advertising, Microphone, and Smart TV Experience.
Click on Smart TV Experience, and you can uncheck Use Info from TV Inputs, which will disable the TV’s ACR technology. This will limit the tracking of programs you receive via an antenna or any other devices connected to the TV, but Roku may still collect and share data about the apps you use.
If you disable Use Info, it automatically shuts off Enable Auto Notifications, which uses ACR technology to power Roku’s More Ways to Watch feature, which lets you watch a live show already in progress from the beginning, or see what other episodes are available.
“ACR does not apply to streaming channels on Roku,” a spokeswoman told us. “Opting out of ACR does not affect collection of information about the use of Roku streaming channels.”
Under Advertising, you can limit ad tracking or reset the advertiser identifier, which replaces the ad identifier associated with your Roku device.
Click on Microphone, and you’ll see two options: Channel Microphone Access and Channel Permissions. These provide various options (Prompt, Always Allow, and Never Allow) for allowing or preventing channels from accessing the microphone on your remote or a mobile device if you’re using the Roku app.
Under Advertising, you can also choose to limit ad tracking. You may still see ads—which could appear on Roku services or third-party channels—but they shouldn’t be personalized.
We checked the Roku TV platform on a 2020 TCL set, but the settings were laid out identically on other Roku TV models we looked at.
Shut Off ACR on Samsung TVs
On newer Samsung smart TV models, including 2019 and 2020 sets, click the Settings icon in the main menu or the button on the remote control, look for Support, then scroll down to Terms & Privacy. (On some earlier models it is called Terms and Policy.)
Click on Privacy Choices and you’ll see a screen where you can review all of Samsung’s privacy policies. Below that there are several options, including Viewing Information Services, Interest-Based Advertising, and Voice Recognition Services.
Turn off Viewing Information Services to prevent the TV from sending ACR data to Samsung. Turning off Voice Recognition Services stops the TV from collecting voice data, such as the searches you make, the apps you use, and the websites you go to. But there’s a trade-off: You won’t be able to perform searches or control the TV using voice commands.
Shutting down Interest-Based Ads just means you’ll get generic rather than personalized ads.
On older Samsung smart TVs, the ACR controls are found under the Smart Hub menu. Look for the icon for Settings, click on Support, and find the submenu titled Terms & Policy.
In that submenu, look for SyncPlus and Marketing, and you’ll find an option to disable SyncPlus. You can also turn off Voice Recognition Services, which will disable voice commands.
Shut Off ACR on Sony TVs
Then proceed through the next couple of screens until you get to the Samba TV user agreement. You can also disable Samba TV at any time on your TV screen by going to Settings, and then Device Preferences, where you’ll see Samba Interactive TV in the submenu. That will stop Samba TV from collecting your TV’s content viewing history.
Last year we noticed that Samba TV wasn’t on all the Sony TVs at the time we tested them. A Sony spokesperson told us that some models might not launch with Samba TV, but it could be added later. If so, you should receive a prompt giving you the option to opt out of the Samba TV service.
You also get to the TV’s privacy settings by pushing the help button at the bottom of the remote control.
Shut Off ACR on Vizio TVs
Older Vizio models, plus just a few of Vizio’s newer sets, use a platform called Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) rather than SmartCast. Vizio says that as of 2017, Viewing Data collection was turned off on these sets. To check, start with the System setting, go to Reset & Admin, and highlight Smart Interactivity, the older name for Viewing Data. Press the right arrow to disable ACR.
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