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How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Chris Hoffman
How to stop your smart tv from spying on youChris Hoffman
Editor-in-Chief

Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He’s written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami’s NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times—and that’s just here at How-To Geek. Read more.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

There’s a good chance your smart TV is spying on you. Smart TVs often analyze the videos you’re watching and report back — whether you’re watching live TV, streaming videos on a service like Netflix, or playing local video files. Worse yet, this can be a security problem.

TVs should really just be dumb displays. Smart TVs not only have bad interfaces, they spy on what you’re watching even when you aren’t using those smarts. Their security practices are often pretty bad, too.

The Problem

Modern smart TVs often have “features” that inspect what you’re watching and report it back to some company’s servers. This data can be sold to marketers, or it could be tied to you somehow to create a better ad-targeting profile. Really, you’re not getting anything out of this — the TV manufacturer just makes some more money with this data. Vizio just made headlines because such a feature is enabled by default on Vizio smart TVs.

This tracking doesn’t just apply to the smart TV’s apps — even if you plug in a Roku or Apple TV and stream something from Netflix, the TV can analyze the picture it’s displaying and report that data back. It may report back on the channel number you’re watching if you’re watching live TV, or the filenames of local video files on a USB drive plugged into your smart TV.

Smart TVs also have questionable security protections. Vizio TVs transmitted this tracking data without any encryption, so other people can snoop on the snooping. They also connect to a server without checking it’s a legitimate server, so a man-in-the-middle attack could send commands back to the TV.

Vizio says it’s fixed this problem and TVs will automatically update to a new firmware. But are those smart TVs even checking to ensure they’re downloading legitimate firmware files with correct digital signatures? Based on TV manufacturers’ cavalier attitude to security in general, we’re concerned.

Some smart TVs have built-in cameras and microphones — if the security is so shoddy in general, it would theoretically be possible for an attacker to spy on you through your TV.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Just Don’t Connect Your TV to Wi-Fi or Ethernet

Just don’t connect your smart TV to your home network and you’ll be protected from whatever built-in spying features it has and any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

Don’t connect your smart TV to your Wi-Fi network. If you have, go into your smart TV’s settings and disconnect it from the Wi-Fi. Don’t connect it to the network with an Ethernet cable, either. If you’ve already connected to the Wi-Fi network, try to get your smart TV to forget the password. If you can’t, you may need to reset it to its factory default settings — don’t give it the Wi-Fi password when you set it up again.

This will also prevent your smart TV from embedding extra advertisements into other things you watch — yes, some Samsung smart TVs actually do that!

Get “smarts” on your TV by plugging in a streaming box like an Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, video game console, or one of the many other devices that works better and should be more secure than your smart TV. That box can be connected to the Internet.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Try to Disable the Spying Features (Not Recommended)

We recommend you just disconnect your smart TV from the network and be done with it. If it can’t connect to the Internet, it can’t cause you any problems — full stop. You won’t want to use its smart features when you can just use a superior streaming device, anyway.

If you do want to leave it connected to the network, you could try to disable the spying features. This will be a different process on different models of TVs.

Worse yet, just toggling the option may not do anything. Even if you don’t agree to Vizio’s privacy policy when setting up the TV, Vizio still enables the snooping features on your TV. Disabling the spying features may also not prevent the TV from being exploited through its security holes. New spying features could be automatically added in firmware updates.

If you really want to disable the spying features instead, you’ll find them somewhere in your TV’s settings menu. On Vizio TVs, this setting is named “Smart Interactivity” and it may be buried under System > Reset & Admin. Here are Vizio’s instructions for disabling it.

LG smart TVs may have a “Collection of watching info” setting. On some Samsung smart TVs, you can head into a “Smart Features” menu and disable “Voice recognition” to disable always-listening voice commands. Other smart TVs from other manufacturers may have many different settings named different things from model to model.

This is part of a larger problem with “the Internet of things,” which envisions modern appliances — everything from your toaster to the blender, microwave, and fridge — becoming “smart” and connecting to the network. As we’ve seen with Android smartphones, most device manufacturers don’t seem capable of creating secure software and updating it. Smart appliances sound alright, but the reality — spying and security holes — seems like a serious problem.

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How to stop your smart tv from spying on you Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He’s written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami’s NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times—and that’s just here at How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Privacy Please is an ongoing series exploring the ways privacy is violated in the modern world, and what can be done about it.

When it comes to your television set, brains are overrated.

Smart TVs have long dominated the home entertainment marketplace, with internet access and the built-in ability to play content from streaming services like Netflix considered a must for any modern device. But as is often the case when it comes to the relentless drive to connect the world, when you load your gadgets up with both cameras and behind-the-scenes monitoring tech, and then connect them to the internet, you get a lot more than you pay for.

You’re probably aware that smart TVs have a bit of a reputation when it comes to invading their owners’ privacy as a matter of course. In 2014, a Salon editorial highlighted the fact that even then some smart TV manuals contained language warning customers about discussing “sensitive information” in front of their televisions. The embedded microphones on Samsung smart TVs, as the Daily Beast later reported in 2015, were likely sending voice commands to third parties to convert speech to text.

What we didn’t know at the time, and what we do know now, is that text-to-voice systems — like those used by Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple — for years relied on real humans listening to customers’ voice commands (and many likely still do). And, at least in the case of Amazon’s Alexa, devices in the past often started recording without a wake word prompt.

And that’s just the tip of the privacy-sinking iceberg.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” the FBI warned in 2019. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

But even slapping tape over your smart TV’s camera and disabling the mic isn’t enough to protect your in-home privacy.

Automatic Content Recognition

Many modern TVs come pre-loaded with something called automatic content recognition (ACR) software. You’d be forgiven for never having come across this particular term before, and that’s most definitely part of the problem.

So what is ACR? A look at Samsung’s privacy policy provides a real-world explanation.

“In order to provide you with customized Smart TV experiences, some of our feature and services will rely on your TV viewing history and Smart TV usage information,” explains the policy, dated Jan. 1, 2021. “Your TV viewing history includes information about the networks, channels, websites visited and programs viewed on your Smart TV and the amount of time spent viewing them. We may use automatic content recognition (ACR) and other technologies to capture this information.”

In other words, imagine some ad executive standing over you ever time you turn on your TV, recording in minute detail everything you watch and for how long, and then sending (or possibly selling) that data to any number of third parties that you’ve never heard of but who now posses your IP address (which can be tied back to your name) linked to your viewing habits.

Vizio’s privacy policy, for example, makes clear that your data is likely not staying just with Vizio.

“When ACR collection is turned on, we may share Viewing Data with authorized data partners including analytics companies, media companies and advertisers,” it explains. “Viewing Data is sometimes enhanced with household demographic data and data about digital actions (e.g. digital purchases and other consumer behavior taken by devices associated with the IP Address we collect).”

Sounds creepy, right? And when you think about what companies might be able to infer from your viewing habits — your religious and political beliefs, your income level, your marital status, your proclivity for specific types of pornography — it gets even creepier.

Thankfully, there’s a solution that doesn’t involve a brick.

Turning off ACR

When it comes to turning off ACR on your smart TV, there’s the easy way, and then there’s the hard way.

The easy way — disconnecting your television, permanently, from the internet — also renders your smart TV partially dumb. Which, hey, that might not be so bad. If you’re the type of person who has a vast Blu-ray collection, or someone who hooks your laptop up to your TV with an HDMI cable every time you want to stream something, then disconnecting your TV from the internet makes sense.

These days, though, many people rely on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime for their viewing pleasures. In other words, connecting your TV to the internet is nonnegotiable. Thankfully, many smart TVs now offer the option to disable ACR.

Frustratingly, the option to do so is often buried deep within a TV’s settings and explained with confusing terms — making it a challenge to locate, and, once found, to understand. Oh yeah, and every brand hides this option in a different place.

Vizio, for example, offers the following instructions for disabling ACR:

Press the MENU button on your TV’s remote or open HDTV Settings app

Select Reset & Admin

Highlight Viewing Data

Press RIGHT arrow to change setting to Off

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Samsung’s smart TV privacy settings are even more buried than Vizio’s. According to the company’s privacy policy, you’ll find the relevant options under Menu > Support > Terms & Policy or Menu > Smart Hub > Terms & Policy.

You’ll want to disable viewing information services, interest-based advertising, and, for good measure, voice recognition services (these may be under another settings page, titled “Privacy Choices”).

According to its privacy policy, TCL, which makes Roku-enabled TVs, refreshingly doesn’t “collect information on your television viewing habits, on the shows and movies you choose to watch, or on any aggregated data based on your use of the TCL Roku TV.” However, that’s not the case with Roku, which specifically says in its privacy policy that it employs ACR.

To disable ACR on a Roku TV, the privacy policy says to “visit your Roku TV’s Settings menu (Settings > Privacy > Smart TV Experience) and de-select ‘Use Info from TV Inputs.'”

Own something other than a Vizio, Samsung, or Roku-enabled smart TV? No problem. Consumer Reports has a wonderful step-by-step guide for turning off ACR on a bevy of different smart TV brands, including LG, Sony, Hisense, Philips, Sharp, Element, Insignia, and Toshiba.

Modern technology increasingly invades consumers’ lives in ever-more disturbing fashions, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for the companies trying to profit off what few private moments you have left.

So spend a few minutes diving into your TVs’ convoluted privacy settings, and rest assured that you’re at least doing the bare minimum when it comes taking back control of your data.

Your internet-connected smart TV can invade your privacy. Here’s what the FBI and two top security experts recommend you do to protect yourself.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Smart televisions offer a lot of cool features, including internet access, streaming apps, and built-in cameras and microphones. However, because they are always connected to the internet, those TVs can be a potential risk.

Hackers who gain access can control your TV and change certain settings. Using built-in cameras and microphones, a smart and capable hacker can spy on your conversations. In November 2019, the FBI issued a warning about the risks of smart TVs to your privacy and offered several recommendations.

The FBI noted that TV manufacturers and app developers have the ability to listen to and watch you. But a potentially more serious threat comes from bad actors who gain access to your unsecured television and take control by changing channels, adjusting volume levels, and even showing inappropriate content to children. At worst, they might turn on your TV’s camera and microphone to spy on you, or use that access to find a backdoor into your router and other connected devices.

FBI’s Best Practices

This all sounds like the worst type of nightmare scenario, but it’s one that shouldn’t make you afraid to use your smart TV. The FBI offers a few guidelines and best practices to better ensure your security and privacy:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control them. Do a basic internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Don’t depend on default security settings. Change passwords if you can—and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can it do this? Has it done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

What the Experts Say

Besides the FBI’s advice, we had industry experts weigh in on the issue. Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of identity-verification service Aver, and Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and Advisory CISO at privileged access management firm Thycotic, shed some light on TV hacking.

What are the potential risks and hazards for smart TV owners from hackers?
Hyduchak
: The risks come from anything involved with microphones, cameras, and sensors. Data mining based on what you watch and where you are is also valuable in the data marketplace, so these things become a risk too.

Carson: Smart TVs are basically computers that are running an operating system. The same risks that apply to computers also apply to smart TVs. Most smart TVs have cameras, a microphone, and a file system. If a cybercriminal gains access to your smart TV, which is likely connected to the internet, it would mean an attacker can see you through your camera, listen to your conversations, and steal your data. An attacker could also use your smart TV to latterly move to other devices on your home network. This includes your laptops or other personal devices, including network storage.

How real and pervasive are these risks and threats? Is this threat being overblown, or is it something all smart TV owners should be concerned about?
Hyduchak
: The risk is real. In 2018, Huawei, a Chinese-based company that makes all kinds of consumer electronics, was found with “backdoors” in their products. This allowed them to essentially access the phone data as they please. Many in the US government came out and immediately recommended a stop-use of all their products.

Carson: The threat is very real. When it is possible, a cybercriminal is going to take full advantage of it.

Have there been real instances of TV manufacturers using smart TVs to snoop on users, either purposely or accidentally?
Hyduchak
: Back in 2017, Vizio was selling data from their TVs and was fined by the FTC. Once every second, software in the Vizio TVs would read pixel data from a segment of the screen. This was sent home and compared against a database of film, television and advertising content to determine what was being watched.

Have there been real instances of hackers who gained access to a smart TV and were then able to find other information on a user’s home network?
Hyduchak
: The FBI and CIA are warning that our TVs can be a window to your network. The data is hard to find on breaches because most are silent. But, be assured that when Roku is putting out patches for vulnerabilities, it is not a mistake or without a reason for that patch.

Carson: Absolutely. I personally have even used it in penetration tests in the past using the TV’s camera and microphone.

Are the TV manufacturers doing anything to shore up the vulnerabilities of smart TVs?
Hyduchak
: They are being more transparent about their usage, and things like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) mandate that data use is disclosed.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Your shiny new smart TV is spying on you. Here’s a look at how it does spy and how to stop or at least limit ad tracking.

In addition to being tracked while using apps on your phone and when online, your TV is doing a good job of spying on you, too. Here is a look at some helpful information on how your TV spies. And how to stop it – erm, limit it at least.

How Your TV Spies On You

The feature is called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR). It is used to spy on your viewing habits, regardless of what you’re watching. It attempts to identify what you watch via cable, over-the-air, streaming services, as well as DVDs and Blu-rays. In addition to determining what you’re watching, it is used to target ads and other marketing purposes.

As an example, Vizio was fined $2.2 million for not properly disclosing how it shares tracking information on 11 million of its TV sets. And if that isn’t enough, the CIA’s “Weeping Angel” hack turned Samsung TVs into live mics. Those are just two real-world examples of the types of tracking that can be done using your TV.

Like your PC or any device, the minute you connect your smart TV to your Wi-Fi, it relays your location, the TV’s information, and more. To help protect yourself, don’t keep your smart TV connected to your Wi-Fi and use a third-party set-top box or stick. They have more features to help you stop tracking — more on that below.

But in all likelihood, you’ll need to connect your TV to the internet to download new firmware updates. Most manufacturers don’t provide a way to download individual firmware updates so you can manually install them yourself locally. And unfortunately, the only way to connect to the internet to get your firmware is to completely set it up – like a Roku TV, for example. And if you aren’t able to disconnect it from the network, you can try to disable tracking through the TV’s settings.

Prevent Spying and Ad Tracking on Set-top Boxes

Your set-top box is keeping track of what you watch via the apps you have installed on it. You can do your best to limit ad-tracking, though. When you turn off ad tracking, it notifies providers like Netflix or Amazon that you don’t want to be tracked. But there’s no guarantee it will happen as Roku or Apple can’t enforce it. For more on limiting ad tracking check out our article on how to limit ad tracking on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Don’t Use a Smart TV App on Your Phone

Another way tracking information can be relayed back to the home base is by installing a smart tv manufacture’s mobile app. So, if possible, don’t install those new apps on your phone just because you can. As you use a Samsung remote app, for example, it will send all sorts of data points back to the mothership. And while you’re at it, forget installing the Roku or Fire TV app on your smartphone, too.

Summing Up

It’s virtually impossible to buy just a “dumb” TV anymore. So, your best bet is to never connect your TV to Wi-Fi. And just connect a Roku, Apple TV, or other external devices. Then you can disable or limit tracking through it, but still, that won’t block all tracking.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Those smart TVs that sold for unheard of low prices over the holidays come with a catch. The price is super low, but the manufacturers get to monitor what you’re watching and report back to third parties, for a fee.

Or, in some cases, companies like Amazon (with its Fire TV branded sets from Toshiba and Insignia) and TCL, with its branded Roku sets, look to throw those same personalized, targeted ads at you that you get when visiting Facebook and Google.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You have the controls to opt out. Within just a few clicks, you can stop the manufacturers from snooping on you in the living room.

Amazon-branded ‘Fire TV Edition’ sets

Go to Settings and Preferences, where you have several categories to uncheck. Select “Privacy Settings,” and make sure “Device Usage Data,” “Collect App and Over-the-Air data” and “Interest-based ads” are turned off. (And be sure to go back and check your settings often. We own one of these sets and had “interest-based ads” turned off. When we checked Wednesday, it had somehow clicked back to “on.”)

Amazon will urge you to turn interest-based ads back on, saying that the apps will be instructed not use your information to “build profiles” for advertising purposes or “target you with interest-based ads. It only sounds like a great deal.

TCL makes branded Roku TVs with software also used in sets by Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia, Philips, RCA and Sharp.

Turn off ACR by going to Settings, then Privacy, and “Smart TV Experience.” To disable ACR, make sure all the options there are unchecked, notes CNET.

In the menu, click to Settings, which brings you to All Settings, and find your way to General. The feature to look for here is LivePlus, which is what LG calls the ACR technology that monitors your viewing. This is the one you want to turn off.

On newer sets, go for Settings in the menu, then Support, then Terms & Policies. From there, CNET suggests “Choose Viewing Information Services” and unchecking the ACR tab. Personalized ads are in Service Privacy Notice, where you uncheck Enable to hopefully stop them in their tracks.

Consumer Reports notes that ACR is turned on during setup of the TV, via agreements with Sony, which makes the TV; Google, which provides the AndroidTV operating system; and Samba TV, a company that gathers analytics on viewers’ habits that advertisers can use for targeted ad campaigns.

On Sony TVs, you’ll have to go back to the setup, available within Settings, to turn off ACR.

For Vizio sets, select System, click on “Reset & Admin” and opt for “Viewing Data” to opt out of ACR.

And there’s always a simpler, incredibly effective step. If you don’t want your viewing tracked, just turn the WiFi off on the set altogether and just rely on your cable TV signal.

But what fun is that? You won’t be able to say “Alexa, turn off the TV” or “Hey Google, open Netflix.”

Your internet-connected smart TV can invade your privacy. Here’s what the FBI and two top security experts recommend you do to protect yourself.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Smart televisions offer a lot of cool features, including internet access, streaming apps, and built-in cameras and microphones. However, because they are always connected to the internet, those TVs can be a potential risk.

Hackers who gain access can control your TV and change certain settings. Using built-in cameras and microphones, a smart and capable hacker can spy on your conversations. In November 2019, the FBI issued a warning about the risks of smart TVs to your privacy and offered several recommendations.

The FBI noted that TV manufacturers and app developers have the ability to listen to and watch you. But a potentially more serious threat comes from bad actors who gain access to your unsecured television and take control by changing channels, adjusting volume levels, and even showing inappropriate content to children. At worst, they might turn on your TV’s camera and microphone to spy on you, or use that access to find a backdoor into your router and other connected devices.

FBI’s Best Practices

This all sounds like the worst type of nightmare scenario, but it’s one that shouldn’t make you afraid to use your smart TV. The FBI offers a few guidelines and best practices to better ensure your security and privacy:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control them. Do a basic internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Don’t depend on default security settings. Change passwords if you can—and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can it do this? Has it done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

What the Experts Say

Besides the FBI’s advice, we had industry experts weigh in on the issue. Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of identity-verification service Aver, and Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and Advisory CISO at privileged access management firm Thycotic, shed some light on TV hacking.

What are the potential risks and hazards for smart TV owners from hackers?
Hyduchak: The risks come from anything involved with microphones, cameras, and sensors. Data mining based on what you watch and where you are is also valuable in the data marketplace, so these things become a risk too.

Carson: Smart TVs are basically computers that are running an operating system. The same risks that apply to computers also apply to smart TVs. Most smart TVs have cameras, a microphone, and a file system. If a cybercriminal gains access to your smart TV, which is likely connected to the internet, it would mean an attacker can see you through your camera, listen to your conversations, and steal your data. An attacker could also use your smart TV to latterly move to other devices on your home network. This includes your laptops or other personal devices, including network storage.

How real and pervasive are these risks and threats? Is this threat being overblown, or is it something all smart TV owners should be concerned about?
Hyduchak: The risk is real. In 2018, Huawei, a Chinese-based company that makes all kinds of consumer electronics, was found with “backdoors” in their products. This allowed them to essentially access the phone data as they please. Many in the US government came out and immediately recommended a stop-use of all their products.

Carson: The threat is very real. When it is possible, a cybercriminal is going to take full advantage of it.

Have there been real instances of TV manufacturers using smart TVs to snoop on users, either purposely or accidentally?
Hyduchak: Back in 2017, Vizio was selling data from their TVs and was fined by the FTC. Once every second, software in the Vizio TVs would read pixel data from a segment of the screen. This was sent home and compared against a database of film, television and advertising content to determine what was being watched.

Have there been real instances of hackers who gained access to a smart TV and were then able to find other information on a user’s home network?
Hyduchak: The FBI and CIA are warning that our TVs can be a window to your network. The data is hard to find on breaches because most are silent. But, be assured that when Roku is putting out patches for vulnerabilities, it is not a mistake or without a reason for that patch.

Carson: Absolutely. I personally have even used it in penetration tests in the past using the TV’s camera and microphone.

Are the TV manufacturers doing anything to shore up the vulnerabilities of smart TVs?
Hyduchak: They are being more transparent about their usage, and things like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) mandate that data use is disclosed.

Related

Carson: Frankly, when no one is complaining, and they don’t release that they are a victim, the TV manufacturers are not in any urgency to improve security or patch systems.

Beyond the recommendations offered in the FBI’s warning, what else should concerned smart TV owners to do protect themselves and their privacy?
Hyduchak: Make sure your products are always up to date with the newest software and ensure that products like Huawei’s aren’t in your bedroom, let alone your home.

Carson: I would recommend that you always make sure you know what features are enabled on your smart TV that will create risk and then decide whether or not you need them. You should also keep your smart TV patched and power it completely off when you are not using it.

There are also specific steps that owners of certain brand TVs should follow.

Sony Android TVs utilize the Google Play Store, which incorporates Google Play Protect to scan all Android apps on the TV for malware before and after they are downloaded to the TV. Owners of such TVs can adjust the Android TV’s default setting to only access apps via the Google Play Store or only load apps via USB, according to Sony.

On the Sony Select row of the Android TV’s home screen, the ESET Smart TV Security app can be installed to provide protection for Android security issues and USB devices plugged into the TV, and to help prevent unauthorized access to data while connected.

Vizio was just slapped with a $2.2 million fine because it didn’t tell customers how it was tracking their viewing. Vizio TV owners, here’s how to switch off that tracking.

Most TV makers track your viewing habits using their smart TV systems, but the one you may have heard about recently is Vizio. That’s because the popular TV maker was just hit with a $2.2 million fine by the FTC for failing to properly disclose the activity.

If you have a Vizio TV, you might be wondering how to turn off its tracking features.

While you could disconnect your TV from the Internet to prevent this, it’s not the best solution. Cutting the Inernet would mean you won’t be able to use built-in apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. The better option is to just turn tracking off and still enjoy your TV’s smart features.

First, however, you need to know which Vizio smart TV you have.

Which models are affected?

For models sold before 2011, designated VIA (for Vizio Internet Apps), the company says tracking has been disabled already — so no action is needed. But just to make sure, we’ve included instructions for those older TVs below as well.

For TVs sold between 2011 and 2016, you’ll have to do it manually. And for TVs sold in 2016 as SmartCast displays, the tracking is not enabled.

Disable tracking on older VIA TVs (up to 2011)

As mentioned, Vizio already disabled tracking on TVs from 2011 and earlier, but you can do this just to make sure. Press the Menu button on the remote, open Settings, highlight Smart Interactivity and switch it to off.

Disable tracking on newer VIA Plus TVs (2011-2016)

To disable the Smart Interactivity feature on the models with the VIA Plus interface, press the Menu button on the remote to open Settings, select System, followed by Reset and Admin. Then scroll down to Smart Interactivity and switch it to off.

You can now enjoy using your TV without having to worry about Big Brother watching over you.

This article was originally published November 16, 2015. It has been updated to reflect recent developments.

With the recent Wikileaks revelation that the government could spy on Americans through our Smart TV’s, suddenly that internet connectivity that was so exciting two years ago is looking a bit creepy to a lot of people.

But the good news is that there are some things you can do if you’re concerned, and still watch Netflix.

“Kind of scary”

Ann Shepherd loves watching her big screen TV, but now says “it’s kind of scary.”

She doesn’t like the idea of the government, or even the TV manufacturer, knowing what she’s watching. “I take my privacy very serious, and I really don’t appreciate someone spying on me,” she said.

She’s so concerned that when she wants Netflix or other streaming content, she uses her Blu-Ray player that can be turned off.

“No, my TV isn’t even connected to the internet at all. All my internet functions go through my old Blu-Ray player,” she said.

All this is legal, as it turns out you allow data collection on some Smart TV’s when you agreed to the TV’s privacy policy during setup.

What you can do

Now if you’re concerned with what your TV might be recording or sharing, the best thing to do is get into the TV’s settings.

Consumer Reports Magazine has just posted a story online showing how to disable sharing features on most major brands.

On an LG set, you need to go to “Options”, then “LIvePlus”, and click “off.” On some newer LG’s, it’s under “User Agreements.”

Have a Vizio? Look through settings until you see “Smart Interactivity.”

And with Samsung, go into the Smart Hub menu, where you can turn off a feature named “SyncPlus and Marketing.”

Some newer Samsung’s have added “Voice Recognition,” which utilizes a built in microphone. You can shut that off if you find it.

No need to be overly concerned

Your TV should still stream Netflix, without listening or sharing data, which makes Shepherd feel a little better..

“Home is your safe place,” she said. “And it’s a place for privacy. And that’s what I am mostly concerned about.”

Bottom line: The risk of anyone deliberately spying on average people though their TV’s is next to zero. And remember that Netflix has a list of what you watch, which is how it recommends other movies to you.

But if it makes you sleep better, turn off sharing and interactivity, so you don’t waste your money.

DEVICES in your own home may be spying on you, from your television to your refrigerator.

Because tech items like smart speakers, TVs, thermostats, video doorbells, and more sometimes have microphones or cameras that are always online, this could be an invitation for hackers to listen in.

How to stop your smart tv from spying on you

Here's a list of devices that could potentially spy on users, and how to protect yourself and your home.

Televisions

Many TVs these days can connect to the internet, browse the web, run apps, be controlled by your voice, and more.

Automatic content recognition (ACR) can watch what you see and target you with personalized advertising across various platforms.

Many people agree to ACR when their TVs are being set up, but it can be disabled.

The disable function varies from TV to TV, but can usually be found in general or advanced settings by selecting options like "viewing information" or "viewing data."

Kitchen Appliances

While a smart fridge can be a great convenience, it may also leave households that have them open to cyber attacks.

Potential vulnerabilities have been reported in smart kitchen devices for years.

In this case, experts recommend doing a risk vs. reward analysis to decide if there's really a benefit to having your fridge connected to the internet.

Webcams/Home Security Cameras

Malware installed on your computer could take control of the machine's webcam and record you.

Footage recorded on security devices may also be targeted and transported elsewhere.

Make sure devices are up to date to avoid missing any security updates

Smart Bulbs

With technology going into more and more places in the home, even our lamps, it does open up the opportunity to breaches.

Last year, a hacker was able to launch an attack on a home computer network through a Philips Hue smart lightbulb.

Philips quickly issued a security update that addressed the issue. If you use these products, it's important to make sure you keep track of any updates as well.

Smart Speakers

By design, many smart speakers are always listening to us.

If you are concerned about what your smart device may be gathering or recording about you, there are ways to delete information.

For Amazon Alexa, users can request that the device "delete what I just said." For Google Assistant, users can say, "delete my last conversation."

Users would first have to enable the "delete by voice" option in their settings.

Thermostats

While products like Nest can be a great convenience when you're not home, they have also sparked privacy concerns.

Google-owned Nest, however, has neither a camera or a microphone inside.

That's not true for all temperature devices, though. Alexa-supporting ecobee4 products do have microphones.

However, users can take advantage of a privacy mode that can be activated after the thermostat is installed. Just tap the microphone icon on the thermostat screen and select "voice control off."

Laundry equipment

Like your smart fridge, washers and dryers that connect to the internet may result in unwanted information being shared.

This is another instance where users should weigh the risks and benefits of having these devices connect to the internet.

Modems (or internet service providers)

Your internet service provider could compile a list of websites you have communicated with if it was asked to do so.

Even if the providers themselves do not spy on customers, their technical employees could probably still do it.

Many people also package their internet service provider with cable or other TV services.