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Do not let your Roku, Apple TV or other streamer track you. Change these privacy settings

Sling TV on Roku Ultra 4K 2021
Sarah Tew / CNET

So you've got a new one streaming device as a gift. (Maybe from yourself, but who counts?) Congratulations! Whether it was a Black Friday coup or a fancy stocking stopper, now is the time to relax and enjoy the thrill of having all your favorite streaming services on one easy-to-use device.

But before you get too cozy on the couch, you might want to dig through some menus to find out how your new device handles your privacy. In many ways, the content you see on the big screen looks back at you. While most modern TVs and streaming devices do not track you with physical cameras, their software platforms are often keep up with what you're doing behind the scenes.

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Naomi Antonino / CNET

From Amazon and Roku to Google and even Apple, big smart platforms capture your display data. Software and hardware manufacturers - from your new streaming stick to your TV itself - use it to "enhance" the products they offer, for example by tailoring recommendations for shows and the ads they show you. While potentially frustrating, the ability to show ads helps keep costs down when you buy a new streaming stick.

One tracking tool is called Automatic Content Recognition, which is software that recognizes the images on your TV. ACR works whether the images come through an app or an HDMI port as a cable box, Xbox or PlayStation. The good news is, you can turn it off.

While we have previously covered this for the TVs themselves, for this story we have checked all the latest software on streamers from Amazon, Roku, Google and Apple.

Here's what we found and what you can do about it on your respective new streaming players.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

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Sarah Lord / CNET

Amazon's privacy policy states that your Amazon device "collects data about your use of the device and its features, such as your home screen navigation, device settings selection (such as device language, screen size, WiFi and Bluetooth settings), or opening and closing apps and services. "

According to Amazon, they use this data to "develop and improve products and features, to gain insight into how products are used, assess customer engagement, identify potential quality issues, analyze our business, and customize marketing offerings."

The exact data it captures varies depending on each app and service.

How to take control back. All settings can be found by going to Settings, then Preferences then Private settings.

  • Choose Device usage data and turn off this setting
  • Go to Collect App usage data and turn off this setting
  • choose Interest-based ads and turn off this setting.

Now, your Amazon Fire TV device will not be able to track your data for marketing purposes or be able to look at the frequency and duration of your use of downloaded apps. It also will not give you targeted advertising, but it will still have ads.

Google Chromecast with Google TV

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Sarah Lord / CNET

Google has one privacy policy across its products that describes the data it collects to sell ads or recommend other content, such as YouTube videos.

The data collected includes terms you search for, videos you watch, views and interactions with content and ads, voice and audio information when using audio features, purchasing activity, people you communicate with or share content with, activity on third-party websites, and apps that use our services.

Google says that Google Chromecast as a platform does not perform ACR or monitor what specific content users are viewing.

How to manage data on Google Chromecast with Google TV.

  • Go to Settings, scroll down to a section marked Privacy. There you can access settings for placement, usage and diagnostics and ads. There are also account settings sections that include Google Assistant as well as payment and purchase. Finally, the section has app settings where you can check app permissions, special app access and security and restrictions.
  • click Use and diagnostics and make sure the tab is off. This means that you will no longer send diagnostic information to Google.
  • click Ads, and Opt out of ad customization, to prevent apps from using your ID to build personalized ad profiles.
  • Go to myactivity.google.com to manage other data Google has about you, such as YouTube and search history and web and activity data.

Year

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Sarah Lord / CNET

Roku's privacy policy states that the company will collect "your search history, search results, audio information when you use voice-activated features, channels you access (including usage statistics, such as which channels you access, when you access them, and for how long you use to see them), interactions with content and ads, and settings and preferences. "

Roku says it shares data with advertisers "including ads that you see in Roku's and third-party channels, as well as ads included in content that you see through your Roku TV's antenna and connected devices."

Here's what you need to do to restrict or disable some of the tracking.

  • Open the main menu in Roku Settings and go to Privacy.
  • To Advertising, make sure the box Restrict ad tracking is checked. This prevents Roku from customizing ads and sharing impression data from streaming channels for measurement purposes. Roku will let channel providers know that you prefer not to have personal ads, but according to Roku, it is up to the providers whether they respect your preference or not. Likewise, "Restrict ad tracking" will not prevent individual channels, such as Hulu or Netflix, from collecting its own data about your consumption or passing on this information to other parties.
  • For those Roku devices that come with a built-in microphone in the remote control, you can go to Microphone also Channel microphone access to select how a channel accesses the microphone. You can always give them access, never give them access or get a prompt pop up and ask permission to access the microphone. The Channel Permissions button allows you to manage the permissions for each channel.

Apple TV

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Sarah Lord / CNET

Apple's privacy policy claims that they primarily collect information from your Apple ID so you can seamlessly continue where you left off on other devices. The information they track includes "what content you play, when you played it, the device you played it from, and where exactly in the content you paused or stopped watching. We also collect a detailed history of all playback activity for Apple TV channels and Apple TV Plus. "

They also state that they share some information with their partners who "work with Apple to provide our products and services, help Apple market to customers, and sell ads on Apple's behalf for display in the App Store and Apple News and Stocks. "

But unlike the others on this list, Apple always asks if you want individual apps to track your usage the first time you use them. You can prevent each app from viewing your data by clicking no each time it appears.

But Apple still has some more privacy settings that you can change. How to find them:

First, find and click setting icon. Press General tab, and then scroll down to Privacy. The Privacy menu includes Location Services, Tracking, Photos, Bluetooth, HomeKit, Media and Apple Music, as well as Apple TV users.

  • click on Tracking and make sure of it Allow apps to ask for tracking is On.
  • Go back to Privacy menu. You will see a separate section called Analysis and improvements
  • Change Share Apple TV Analytics to Of.
  • Change Improve Siri and dictation to Of.

You have now succeeded in limiting Apple in tracking your analytics and using your data to improve Siri or dictation.

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