Streaming TV Devices Are Watching You

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Man watching TV at home
Andrey_Popov /

Dropping cable TV and switching to an online streaming service can save you a bundle of cash.

But you might pay a hidden price for cutting the cord. The devices that enable your TV to connect to the internet likely are tracking you, according to a Princeton University study.

The study authors say that tracking of viewer choices on so-called “over-the-top” TV streaming devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV “is pervasive.”

According to the study findings, 69% of Roku channels and 89% of Amazon Fire TV channels track the internet traffic that goes through these brands of streaming devices. In other words, those channels keep track of what you watch.

To make matters worse, the ability for viewers to shut down this activity — such as limiting tracking options and blocking ads — “are practically ineffective,” the authors conclude.

Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton University and co-author of the study, told The Verge:

“If you use a device such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV, there are numerous companies that can build up a fairly comprehensive picture of what you’re watching. There’s very little oversight or awareness of their practices, including where that data is being sold.”

Whether this should bother you depends on how strongly you feel about protecting your privacy. As The Verge points out, the price of smart TVs has fallen significantly in large part because of this type of tracking. Targeted advertising — which depends on monitoring your viewing habits — helps keep these services profitable.

The upshot: Think about your privacy — and how important it is to you — before cutting the cord.

New streaming options debut

If you are OK with sacrificing a little privacy to save a few bucks, Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices can be good choices. But there are other ways to cut your costs.

One way is to choose the right streaming services. Some are much cheaper than others. We highlight some of the most affordable options in “4 Streaming TV Services That Cost $25 a Month — or Less.”

But there are services that cost even less — nothing at all. For more of these options, check out our article on free movie streaming.

Would you give up a little privacy to lower your TV costs? Sound off in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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