Are smart TVs spying on us? Everything you need to know

Two university researches analyzed the amount of data collected on users' habits. And the news is not good: here's why

Smart TVs are like smartphones: they collect a myriad of data about our behavior and pass it on to Web bigwigs like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Akamai. For those who chew a little bit of technology this is not great news, but now there is also confirmation coming from two researches.

The first research was done by Northeastern University (Boston) and Imperial College London, on 81 models of the major smart TV manufacturers. The second is from Princeton University and focused not so much on smart TVs, but on the apps we install on them (or that come pre-installed from the factory). In both cases, it was found that our TV connected to the Internet has a constant flow of data related to the use we make of it. The transmission takes place even when the TV is turned off, and the data collected is much more if the TV integrates a digital assistant such as Alexa or Assistant.

What data Smart TVs transmit

The first research shows that connected TVs send various data to large Web companies: times of use, frequencies of channels viewed, make and model of the device, and where it is located. The data is sent anonymously and encrypted, but in large quantities. The research found that those receiving the data are mainly the companies that manage the cloud systems on which the advertising platforms run. Amazon, for example, receives a lot of data even if we don't have an Echo or Fire Tv device at home.

The second research, on the other hand, shows the data collection done by the apps installed on the smart TV. And it turns out, for example, that Netflix receives some data even if we are not subscribed to its services. All it takes is for the Netflix app to be installed on the TV (and it's often pre-installed from the factory). Netflix, however, specifies that the only data it receives from non-subscribers is the on-screen placement and visibility of its app. TVs that integrate a voice assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, moreover, send much more data to the two companies because they behave similarly to their respective smart speakers.

How to stop your smart TV from spying on us

With regard to the kind of data tracking and transmission described by the first research, there's not much to do: it's the hardware itself that collects the data and sends it outside our home. If we want to use smart TV, therefore, we have to necessarily tolerate it spying on us. Tracking by apps, on the other hand, can be limited, and by a lot. The method to do this is the same we've already seen on smartphones: don't install apps we don't really use, uninstall unused ones, be very careful about the permissions we grant to each app.