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5 Tips to Keep Your Smart TV From Spying On You

Steve Anderson

At this very moment, there could be an insidious agent of the Hollywood elite lurking in your own home. It watches you. It records your movements. And it reports these movements back to its masters using your own internet connection. If that sounds like the plot of a bad novel or possibly a worse movie, it shouldn’t, because it’s more true than you may think. That agent is your smart television, and there are ways to stop the spy before it learns too much.

While smart TVs have made watching streaming video a lot more convenient—most any service available from one remote—it comes with a drawback as well. The television has built-in features that allow it to track what you watch and report back. Worse, the television can also be hacked and used to spy on your private conversations directly. A smart TV with voice commands is already set up to receive what you say in a room, so adapting it to record and transmit everything isn’t out of line.

So how do you protect yourself? A few simple tips can be a big help.

5 Ways to Protect Your Data

An ounce of prevention

Consider not using your smart TV as a smart TV, but rather, as a simple display instead. If your TV has no internet access, then it can’t possibly use its reporting functions. If you find yourself needing to connect, use cables alone to ensure that it can’t report when you’re not using it. Do not teach your smart TV about the existence of Wi-Fi, let alone what your network is named and the password therein. Use over-the-top boxes for your streaming viewing instead. With a range of devices able to serve as streaming platforms—from DVD players to game systems to dedicated systems like Roku and Amazon Fire TV—able to do the job, your TV can just show you a series of pictures like it was always meant to.

Button your lip, TV

This actually is a variant on the previous tip. Instead of completely disabling your TV’s ability to access streaming content and the broader internet, instead consider just disabling the parts that can do the snooping. A bit of duct tape over the camera lens has been a winning strategy for laptop users for years, and it can work for your smart TV as well. A simple online test can allow you to see what others see through your webcam. So if you don’t like what you see, address it.

Shutting down the microphone can be a help here too; while it disables voice controls, it doesn’t remove the remote’s functionality. You should be able to deactivate your remote’s mic in your TV’s settings.

Use the privacy policy

While your smart TV may be spying on you, it technically needs your permission to do so. The problem is that in some cases your TV assumes it has permission, and needs to be actively forbidden before it goes forth. New smart TVs include a privacy policy that you’ll need to accept when you set them up. Some elements can be refused, though some will be required in order to even be able to use your new TV. In some cases, by opting out, you’ll also be missing out on regular updates, so it’s still a good idea to connect sometimes just to check for firmware updates. Try your best to understand the privacy policy as presented instead of just skipping to the end and clicking “accept.”

Check your brand

In late 2020, a particular security vulnerability was found in TCL televisions. While TCL subsequently claimed to have patched the vulnerability, the fact that it was there to begin with should concern users. Samsung models were among the first brands to exhibit potential privacy troubles back in 2017.

Go to the root of the problem.

Instead of only addressing the problem at the television level, consider going to the source of any potential hack: your router. The use of a VPN router can be all the help you may need. What is a VPN router? A VPN router is a router that comes equipped with a VPN, or a Virtual Private Network. It works much the same way your standard router does, but since it comes with its own VPN, it makes all traffic going over that network private. It can restrict performance somewhat, and every model may not work with every network, so do your homework accordingly.

With these five tips in mind, you’ll be able to rest a lot easier. Knowing that, even if you are hacked, you did what you could to prevent it is great peace of mind. No one can stop every hacking. Just ask anyone whose credit card data ever got stolen from a store at which they shopped. Your new smart TV is much the same way. Making a few moves upfront can vastly reduce the chances you’ll be hacked, snooped on, or any other electronics-related condition you’d rather not have.

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