It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like without streaming services. We can watch the latest sporting events, binge new releases, and curl up with old favorites. As with most things that make our lives easier, there’s a tradeoff. Devices like smart TVs, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV sticks deploy widespread tracking techniques on every device. Additionally, recent research shows that many apps gather data regardless of your settings.
What data are streaming services gathering from your device?
Recent research documented how data is gathered on the Roku and Amazon Fire TV platforms. Some apps gathered the account holder’s email address; others grabbed the Wi-Fi network name. Many bypassed the assigned advertising ID and scraped the serial number off the device instead.
The information is shipped off to determine how many times an ad appears, so the same commercial doesn’t repeat. Or, the advertiser wants to play an ad spot for people watching sports. Either way, your device submits a unique identifier for targeted advertising.
User agreements overlap and aren’t enforceable
It’s not news that these platforms gather data, but the lack of accountability made a big splash in the media. Results showed that even those who opt-out could be subject to data collection without their knowledge and in violation of their agreement. Perhaps consumers wouldn’t be so alarmed if the process were transparent, but with multiple user agreements on devices and apps, it becomes impossible to determine what’s happening to your data.
While some devices have settings that are supposed to limit data collection, those options didn’t always stop it from happening. Researchers also highlighted that consumer viewing habits, emails, serial numbers, and other identifiable data is sent to Google, Facebook, and others, even if you don’t use their platforms. It’s possible that a company like Facebook could compile a complete history of everything you’ve ever watched and you have no recourse.
Potential solutions require a consumer advocate
Currently, there is no independent agency that enforces the opt-out settings or user agreements or tells you specifically what data is collected. Different solutions are available, but they require buy-in from so many interested parties and go against the financial interest of the companies. Any solution like an incognito mode or allowing viewers to control their data requires a consumer advocate and enforcer because platform holders and app developers won’t agree to lose a huge stream of income. As much as streaming entertainment to the palm of your hand makes life convenient, it allows data companies to amass a pile of information on activities you might consider private.
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