The Medium is the Message
As troubles in the economy churn on, people are changing the way they watch TV these days. As usual, convenience and cost is traded for a bit of your privacy. Gone is the hefty cable subscription, especially for the spendthrift millennial. Hulu subscriptions are cheap (about $7 a month) and “Netflix & Chill” is every bit a cultural reference of a generation. (If you don’t mind paying cable, however, we’ve found DirectTV seems to give you the most privacy as a provider. That’s rare these days!)
People don’t just click “On” on their remote anyone and just still flipping through a vast array of broadcast and cable channels like they used to. Being cheap takes a little more work to get content off the Internet from your subscription or video platform to play on your TV.
The Alternative to Cable TV
That work-around is called a set-top box or streaming media device and they are becoming more and more common. You can take video from YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc. on your phone or computer and stream or “cast” it to your TV!
Now, every TV as an appliance also has different options regarding their privacy settings. As we reported in a previous post, Vizio just got in trouble with their shady practices of turning on the tracking by default and pairing your IP address with your viewing habits so that advertisers can market things to you on your other devices with that privileged information. In addition, most Smart TVs these days offer streaming apps built-in. They’re the worst, if you’re concerned about privacy – don’t use them! Privacy advocates recommend using a receiver because it blocks and fragments your array of data.
Sort of surprisingly, Apple TV is the best of the bunch! It allows you to limit or disable most of the collection data settings, and doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet to work. For Google Chrome Cast, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it tracks you to a degree…but it’s not as bad as you’d think! You can opt out of plenty of stuff and adjust your privacy settings even further – and it’s affordable. It’s just a little dongle that plugs into the back of your TV. Amazon Firestick, a similar product, is on par with the Chrome Cast as far as privacy settings. Amazon says it doesn’t share your habits with third parties. Hmm, it doesn’t have to, because, like Google, it can advertise its products to you from their own superstore! But I reckon that’s why it’s so cheap – because they’re getting something back from you as the consumer.
Now, for the gaming consoles: Microsoft makes Xbox and Kinect and Sony’s Playstation are alarmingly on-par with each other as far as being medium-level bad with data collection. They don’t state anywhere that you can opt out and they BOTH have binding arbitration clauses that says you can’t sue them later for collecting data on you. If I were you, I’d have a CreepBlocker decal on those webcams – just in case, and I’ll tell you why: Once I noticed the ominous blue light on mine, like it was recording me without my knowledge! That day definitely helped my resolve to develop easy-to-use webcam covers for everyone!
And lastly, we have Roku – which ranks dead last in terms of privacy. I wouldn’t recommend this device.
Our advice for all of these devices is to only be connected to the Internet for firmware updates – and then disconnect again.