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People use streaming devices to watch shows on their TV, but Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast use tools that can track your activity. Here’s how to take control.
Sarah Lord covers TVs and home entertainment. Prior to joining CNET, Sarah served as the tech and electronic reviews fellow at Insider, where she wrote about everything from smart watches and wearables to tablets and e-readers. She began her career by writing laptop reviews as an intern and subsequent freelancer at Tom’s Hardware. She is also a professional actor with many credits in theater, film and television.
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
People stream content on their all the time. It’s one of the best ways for the whole family to watch shows and movies from your favorite , such as , and . But from , , and have a downside: Their software platforms are often behind the scenes.
Every major streaming platform captures your viewing data. Makers of software and hardware — from your new streaming stick to your TV itself — use that data to “improve” the products and services they offer, by tailoring show recommendations and the ads they show you, for example. While that’s potentially frustrating, ads do help keep the price down when you’re buying a new .
While we’ve previously covered themselves, for this story we checked out all of the latest software on streaming devices from Amazon, Roku, Google and Apple.
Here’s what we found and what you can do about it on your respective new streaming players.
Amazon told CNET that it collects limited information about customers’ use of third-party apps on Fire TV. “We collect data on the frequency and duration of use of apps on Fire TV (i.e., when a customer opens or closes an app), which helps with service and device improvements. We don’t collect information about what customers watch in third-party apps on Fire TV.”
Here’s how you limit the amount of data Fire TV collects. All settings can be found by going to Settings, then Preferences, then Privacy Settings.
Now, your Amazon Fire TV device will not be able to track your data for marketing purposes or be able to look at the frequency and duration of your usage of downloaded apps. It will also not give you targeted advertising, but it will still have ads. For more details check out Amazon’s privacy settings FAQ.
The data collected includes terms you search for, videos you watch, views and interactions with content and ads, voice and audio information when you use audio features, purchase activity, people with whom you communicate or share content, activity on third-party sites and apps that use our services.
Google says that Google Chromecast as a platform does not perform ACR or monitor what specific content users are watching.
Here’s how to control data on the Google Chromecast with Google TV.
Roku says that it shares data with advertisers “including ads that you view within Roku’s Channels and Third-Party Channels, as well as ads included in content that you view through your Roku TV’s antenna and connected devices.”
Here’s what you need to do to limit or disable some of the tracking.
It also states that the company does share some information with partners that “work with Apple to provide our products and services, help Apple market to customers and sell ads on Apple’s behalf to display in the App Store and Apple News and Stocks.”
But unlike the others on this list, Apple always asks if you want individual apps to track your usage the first time that you use them. You can prevent each app from seeing your data by clicking no every time this pops up.
And Apple has some more privacy settings that you can change. Here’s how to find them:
First, you’ll have to find and click on the settings icon. Hit the General tab, then scroll down to Privacy. The Privacy menu features Location Services, Tracking, Photos, Bluetooth, HomeKit, Media and Apple Music as well as Apple TV Users.
You’ve now limited Apple from tracking your analytics and using your data to improve Siri or dictation.
Correction, July 15: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that these streaming devices track what you watch with automatic content recognition, which is software that recognizes the images on your TV. None of these four platforms uses ACR on streaming devices, although some smart TVs that run these platforms do use ACR.
Your guide to a better future