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Facebook and Google have ad trackers on their streaming TV



  A photograph of a television taken through glasses.
Enlarge / A Vizio TV shown at CES 2011.

Modern TV that comes to you over the Internet instead of A modern problem is that all streaming devices connected to the Internet monitor you and forward your data to advertisers. Two independent research groups have published papers this week that measure the level of surveillance your TV is performing on you. They also clarify who benefits precisely from the enormous amounts of consumer data collected with or without consumer knowledge.

The first study (PDF), conducted by researchers at Princeton and the University of Chicago, focused specifically on Roku and Amazon set-top devices. A review of more than 2,000 channels on both platforms found trackers on 69% of Roku channels and 89% of Amazon Fire TV channels.

The most widely used tracker, Google's DoubleClick.net, was displayed in 975 of the top 1

,000 Roku channels channels, with Google Analytics Tracker displayed in 360, the researchers found. On the Amazon side, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Amazon trackers were the most prevalent and emerged in 687 out of 1,000 channels. Doubleclick trackers were found on 307 channels, and Facebook trackers on 196.

Tracking not only includes sending information about video titles that you might expect, but also permanent device identifiers and wireless SSID information, the researchers said. Most of the channels that returned information via Tracker sent it plain text in clear text.

The second study (PDF), conducted by researchers from Northeastern University and Imperial College London, examined a wider range of consumer-device cloud-connected channels. In addition to the same exaggerated plug-in devices that researchers at Princeton and Chicago investigated, researchers at Northeastern and Imperial College also looked at various smart TVs and other devices.

The televisions were the worst for how many "unique third party destinations" they contacted, the researchers confirmed the findings that a lot of data is sent in plain text, Facebook, Amazon and Doubleclick were again among the The top consumer data recipients, along with Akamai and Microsoft, both acting as hosting providers, the researchers note.

Perhaps the most surprising, however, was Netflix. "Almost all TVs in our test environments turn to Netflix though we've never configured a TV with a Netflix account "the researchers write (emphasis on)" This at least provides Netflix with information about the model of television in a particular location, if not more. " 19659010] An old problem that is getting worse

The companies that produce and distribute content have always searched as much detailed data as possible about how consumers consume. For markets based on ad sales, the measurement makes sense. How much you can charge a company for placing an ad depends in large part on how many eyeballs the ad is likely to achieve.

The dominance of this model applies to all types of media that need to make money, and that's all. A newspaper company could always tell how many issues it sold in a day or a week, and it could include some data on its subscriber base. A digital media company knows very well how many people read a story or watch a video. Of course, television is no different. The quantification powerhouse Nielsen launched its TV rating service in 1950 – a massive tool for measuring the audience.

However, the digital revolution has made data acquisition extremely precise, granular and permanent, which has extremely problematic effects on users' privacy. The two research papers illustrate how far user tracking is taking place and what mechanisms are taking place. This is useful information. But it's not new and business is slow to develop as it has a financial incentive not to.

A profound dive by ProPublica in 2015 drew attention to the very detailed tracking of consumers by TV maker Vizio. The company finally reached an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2017, claiming to have tracked the usage data of 11 million viewers without knowledge or consent. Vizio also faced a class action lawsuit, and the company used the TV screens to inform the device owners about the activity.

Consumer Options

Apart from Consumers Completely Disapproving of the 21st Century Media Landscape "The ability to prevent persecutors from retrieving and sharing information is extremely limited." Both studies have shown.

Earlier research have shown that "viewers find the disclosure of their data to advertisers unacceptable," the Princeton study said. "However, our results show that there are limited options for such users. As emerging platforms, OTT services lack the tools, controls, and countermeasures that are available on the Web and on mobile platforms. "

Even people who are familiar with blocking advertising The researchers found that services on their computers and A widespread collection of persistent device identifiers such as MAC addresses and serial numbers disables one of the few defense mechanisms available to users: resetting their promotional IDs. "Amazon Fire TV sets, said By activating Limit Ad Tracking on a Roku, the number of promotional ID leaks was reduced to zero, "but the number of trackers contacted by the channels was not affected." Disabling interest-based ads on one Fire TV caused 50% fewer channels of promotional ID information to expire. "The remaining traffic, e however, the other identifiers sent to Tracker remained largely the same. "

Smart TV owners can delve deep into their device's settings to search for options, such as: Disabling automatic content detection or restricting the use of personalized ads. The options available vary by device manufacturer.


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