Whether you call it “integrated Web 2.0 smart technology” or “an Orwellian invasion of privacy,” 2017 was the year Americans started to realize that just about any TV we own from now on will be watching us just as much as we watch it.
Whether you like it or not, any TV described as “smart” or “connected” is at the very least keeping track of your viewing habits. And depending on who you believe, your TV may very well be sending personal information and secret recordings back to advertisers or the government, not to mention anyone who manages to hack it.
While a peeping Tom TV is arguably no creepier than the surveillance device most of us carry in our pockets every day, something just feels wrong about a screen that can watch you in your own living room. The good news is, you’re smarter than even the smartest TV. It’s not that hard to put a stop to the spycraft if you don’t mind giving up a few features.
Disconnect it: Your TV can gather all the data it wants, but if it’s not connected to the internet, it can’t tell anyone. So seriously consider whether you want your TV to be online at all. And bonus: just like any other connected device, smart TVs use your Exede data. Disconnecting can absolutely put GBs back in your pocket each month.
Look into boxes and dongles: “But wait!” you say. “How am I supposed to watch Netflix if my TV isn’t online?”
Take a look at that horrible serpent’s nest of cables you call an entertainment center (or is that just at our house?). If you’ve got a video game console, a Chromecast, an Apple TV or anything else like that, you can probably stream media without putting your actual TV online. If you don’t have any of that stuff, think about buying one. Chances are, whatever you get will work better than the smart TV’s interface anyway.
(Two caveats: First, remember that streaming video on any device can count against your Exede data, so we advise you to take steps to limit video data usage.
(And second, yes, it’s likely that Nintendo or Roku or whoever made your box will be doing a bit of the old data collection as well. While these companies are often better about privacy, they’re far from perfect. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether that new episode of “Stranger Things” is worth it.)
Know your TV: If you’re determined to keep your smart TV online, know what you’re dealing with. Wired put together this great list to help you turn off any features you aren’t comfortable with. As a general rule, killing voice commands and opting out of anything that involves a third party is a good start.
Good old masking tape: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg puts tape over his laptop camera. We’re not saying you should take the same approach with your smart TV, but sometimes physical steps are the best way to assuage cyber concerns. If you’re worried that your TV might be watching you sleep, feel free to point it away from your bedroom. Ten years ago, that idea might have sounded crazy. These days… maybe not so much.
So that should about do it. While it’s hard to go totally off the data grid without giving up TV, you can be selective about which companies get your information, and how much of it you share.