How much does your TV know about you? That’s one of the basic questions we asked in early 2018 when Consumer Reports undertook an analysis of smart-TV privacy and security for several major U.S. TV brands: LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL—which uses the Roku TV platform—and Vizio.

Our investigation found that all smart TVs can collect—and share—significant amounts of personal data about their viewers. (Smart TVs are sets that connect to the internet, making it easy stream videos from services such as Netflix.)

We'll show you how to limit the data collection below.

Much of the information is collected by a technology called automatic content recognition (ACR), which attempts to identify every show you play on the TV—including cable, over-the-air broadcasts, streaming services, and even DVDs and Blu-ray discs—and sends the data to the TV maker or one of its business partners, or both.

ACR helps the TV recommend other shows you might want to watch. But it’s also used for targeting ads to you and your family, and for other marketing purposes. And you can’t easily review or delete this data later.

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ACR has been around for several years, and we first reported on it in 2015. But it got fresh attention in 2017 when Vizio got in trouble with federal and state regulators for collecting data without users’ knowledge or consent. The company paid $2.2 million to settle cases with the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New Jersey. (The company is now in the process of settling a class-action lawsuit stemming from its data collection.)

The FTC has made it clear that companies need your permission before collecting viewing data—but consumers may not understand the details, says Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.

And more smart TVs are finding their way in our living rooms. According to market research firm IHS Markit, more than two-thirds of all TVs shipped in North America last year were smart sets. And the percentage is even higher for the larger sets that are increasingly popular with consumers.

So, how can you stop your smart TV from snooping on you? First, you can deny permission for ACR as you set up the TV—you'll need to read each screen carefully and make sure you don’t just click “okay” to all the privacy policies and user agreements.

If you’ve already been using the TV and now want to turn off ACR, the settings can be tricky to find. 

Below are instructions on how to shut down the snooping features on smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio; Roku sets from brands such as Hisense and TCL; and Amazon Fire TV Edition models from companies including Toshiba and Insignia.

Note that even if you shut off ACR, the TV manufacturer will still get information from your set as long as you accept the basic privacy policy—and you have to do that if you want to use the set for streaming. 

Shut It Off on LG TVs

Almost all LG smart TVs now use the company’s webOS platform. To get started, go to the main menu and click on the Settings icon at the upper right side of the screen. (There may also be a Settings icon on the remote control.)

Next, go to All Settings, which you’ll find at the very bottom of the right side of the screen, and scroll down until you see General.

Click that and scroll down until you see a feature called LivePlus. This is LG's ACR technology.

You can toggle this feature off if you want to limit the amount of information being collected and shared about your viewing habits.

Note, however, that you may not find a Live Plus option on some 2018 LG models right now. "The Live Plus menu option will be available once ACR is rolled out to all 2018 TVs," an LG spokesperson tells us. In fact, LivePlus became available as part of a firmware update on one of LG sets in the middle of our testing.

You can make some additional data-collection changes by scrolling down further in the General settings menu.

On 2018 models, go to User Agreements, which is just below About This TV. You'll see four menu options: Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Viewing Information, and Personalized Advertising.

(On older sets, User Agreements is a submenu within About This TV. And the options you'll see are Viewing Information, Personalized Advertising, and Voice Information.)

You can choose to opt out of each of these features individually, by unchecking their respective boxes, and clicking Agree at the bottom.

Viewing Information, though, is the most important.

That's because LivePlus—and another feature, called ChannelPlus, that provides some free streaming content from a service called Xumo—requires Viewing Information to be enabled. If you disable Viewing Information, Live Plus/ChannelPlus will be toggled off. If you then try to turn on LivePlus or ChannelPlus, a pop-up screen will ask you to consent to Viewing Information.

If you're not using LivePlus or ChannelPlus, it makes sense to turn off Viewing Information to limit the data available to LG and its partners.

If you opt out of the Privacy Policy, you'll lose some smart TV services. Opting out of Personalized Advertising doesn't stop ads; it just means they won't be personalized.

Shut It Off on Samsung TVs

On newer Samsung smart-TV models, click the Settings icon in the main menu, look for Support, then scroll down to Terms & Policies.

There, you’ll see 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 the voice-related services will inhibit your use of voice-controlled functions with the TV.)

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 It Off on Sony TVs

Most newer Sony TVs use the Android TV smart-TV system, and during setup you’re asked to click Yes to agreements with three separate companies: Google, Sony, and an ACR provider called Samba TV.

The one exception right now is with new Sony Master-series TVs, which haven't yet had Samba TV activated. Sony says this will happen later in 2018 via a firmware update.

You have to agree to the Google privacy policy—there's no opt-out option, as there is for the privacy policy in LG and Samsung sets.

To turn off the TV's ACR feature, go to the Home menu, click on Settings, then go to Initial Setup. You may see a prompt for changing the network; if so, click "don't change."

Look for the screen for the Sony Bravia policy. Agree to that (unless you want to stop using smart TV features altogether) and proceed through the next couple of screens until you get to the Samba TV user agreement.

You can opt out of ACR here by clicking “disable,” which is the last option on the right side of the screen. You’ll then get another prompt asking you to confirm that you want to opt out of this feature, so you’ll have to click “disable” again.

You also get to the TV's privacy settings by pushing the help button at the bottom of the remote control.

Photo of the Smart TV experience screen for the TCL Roku TV.
You'll find the TCL Roku TV's ACR technology controls under "Smart TV experience."
Photo: Michael A. Smith

Shut It Off on Roku TVs

TCL uses the Roku TV system, which is also used in sets made by Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia, Philips, RCA, and Sharp. We checked the Roku TV platform on both TCL and Hisense sets to make sure the settings were laid out identically.

To turn off ACR, press the Home button on the remote, then look for Settings. Scroll down until you see Privacy, click on that, and then look for Smart TV Experience.

You can then uncheck Use Information for TV Inputs, which will disable the TV’s ACR technology. This will limit 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 streaming channels you use.

"ACR does not apply to streaming channels on Roku," a spokeswoman tells us. "Opting out of ACR does not affect collection of information about the use of Roku streaming channels."

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 won't be personalized. And while Roku will let channel partners know your preferences, it's up to them to choose to abide by them.

Photo of the Vizio SmartCast TV's Terms & Conditions screen.
Vizio SmartCast TVs require you to accept Google's privacy policy.
Photo: Michael A. Smith

Shut It Off on Vizio TVs

Almost all Vizio TVs now use the SmartCast smart-TV system, which is based on Google’s Chromecast technology. And that means you have to agree to Google's privacy policy—there's no opt-out.

To turn off ACR using the Vizio app on a mobile device or the TV’s remote control, select System, then click on Reset & Admin.

Next, highlight Viewing Data. On new sets you can toggle up and down between the on and off settings, while on older TVs you can press the right/left arrow keys.

Older Vizio models, plus just a few of Vizio’s newer sets, use a platform called Vizio Internet Apps (VIA), rather than SmartCast.

If you have a VIA television, start with the System setting. In a menu called Reset & Admin, highlight Smart Interactivity—the older name for Viewing Data—and press the right arrow to disable the ACR.

Shut It Off on Amazon Fire TV Edition TVs

One of the newest smart TV systems is the Amazon Fire TV Edition platform, which can be found on some models from Insignia and Toshiba sets sold through Best Buy. The settings should be identical on all Amazon Fire TVs. (We used a Toshiba to compile these directions.) 

These sets follow some general Amazon policies that also apply to its retail websites, as well as specific smart TV ones. You can't opt out of Amazon's privacy policies. "All users must accept Fire TV Edition Terms of Use, including Amazon’s Conditions of Use, in order to use Fire TV Edition TVs," an Amazon spokesman tells us.

Amazon says that it does not use ACR technology, and doesn't collect data about what a customer does on their cable settop box or any other non-Amazon devices connected to the TVs.

The company will collect data on over-the-air programs you watch using an antenna, as well those you watch using streaming apps, such as Netflix, that come preloaded on the TV, but you do have the option of turning these features off. Go back to Settings, and then click on Applications, where you'll find Collect App and Over-the-Air Usage Data. Then turn it off.

To opt out of interest-based (personalized) ads, go back to Settings and click on Preferences. Then scroll down for Advertising ID and opt out. You may 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.

To find out more about Amazon's policies, look for Settings on the TV's home screen, and then scroll to the right to Devices and Software. Click on that and look for Legal & Compliance to find the Privacy policy, plus an Over-the-Air Viewing Data FAQ. You can click on those links to find out more information about Amazon's policies, and the choices you have for opting out.

You can find out more info specific to Fire TV Edition TVs in the Amazon Services Terms of Use.