Automated content recognition isn’t the only tracking issue on TVs, but it’s one of the most startling. Here’s what the marketing industry doesn’t want you to know:
Most smart TVs have “automated content recognition” technology that detects what you’re watching, even if you’re watching over-the air TV and reports this data back to marketers.
This feature probably enabled by default, or after a prompt that really encourages you to enable it without explaining your smart TV will monitor your watching habits. To do so, your smart TV will capture sections of video, snippets of audio, still images, or some combination of the three, and upload the data to a “listening post,” as AdExchanger’s guide for marketers explains it.
Even if you never touch your smart TV’s software and you just play video games from a console, stream with an Apple TV, or connect a PC via HDMI, your smart TV is likely watching and phoning home.
What do the marketers do with this data? As AdExchanger puts it: “Once the data has been collected, TV analytics companies ingest ACR data and combine it with other data sets to make it more accurate and usable.”
In other words, data about what you’re watching on your TV is combined with other sources of data. These could include your web browsing history, search history, product purchases, and credit card transaction data. That data can then be used to build a more complete profile on you and your TV habits to better serve you targeted ads.
For example, on a Roku smart TV, you have to head to Settings > Privacy > Smart TV Experience and disable “From TV Inputs” to deactivate ACR features.
TV manufacturers are only getting away with this by making ACR-related options confusing and buried, counting on TV customers not knowing that their televisions are even capable of this. Case in point: Vizio paid out a $17 million settlement after it was sued for making these options confusing and misleading. Of course, Vizio never admitted that it did anything wrong