How to Stop Your Smart TV from Spying on You (Updated 2019)

Last Updated by Bethany Chester on November 03, 2019

Did you know that your smart TV could be watching you and listening in on your private conversations? 

Your smart TV can actually be hacked such that your TV’s camera and microphone are used to spy on you — in your very own home. What’s more, it could be sending your personal data to third-party companies or selling it to advertisers.

Leading smart TV manufacturers have already been involved in privacy scandals. In 2013, LG smart TVs were found to be collecting and transmitting data without user permission. And it’s not just LG — in 2017, Vizio was fined for failing to disclose how and when it collected user information, as well as transmitting collected data unencrypted.

No one should feel paranoid about their TV, but it’s hard to feel secure when your privacy is being invaded.

I’ve listed some simple measures below to help you protect yourself. Turning off data collection permissions and using a VPN are some steps you can take to prevent your smart TV from spying on you.

How Your Smart TV Spies On You

All smart TVs can collect significant amounts of your personal data — which can then be accessed by the manufacturer and third-party companies. How does this happen?

ACR Tracks Your Activity

Smart TVs collect your data with a technology called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR). ACR tracks everything you watch — from streaming services and regular TV shows, to DVDs and Blu-Rays. It can even track how long you spend watching TV, the channels you prefer, and the commercials you watch. Your smart TV collects this data and sends it either to the manufacturer or to one of its business partners.

ACR does have a legitimate use — it’s used to determine what kind of shows you like and recommend similar ones. But smart TV manufacturers also sell this data to marketers.

TV Cameras and Microphones Could Be Watching and Listening in on You

When you use a smart TV, you face the same security and privacy risks as with any device connected to the internet. Your smart TV’s built-in camera and microphone, originally included for voice and facial recognition features, can be accessed by hackers and used to spy on you.

But it’s not just online hackers you have to worry about. In 2015, Samsung smart TVs drew huge criticism for always-on voice detection. Most Samsung smart TVs require that you press the microphone button to use voice commands, but models such as the PN60F8500 are always listening and watching with the built-in microphone and camera.

Samsung faced another scandal in 2016, when it was revealed that its smart TVs were sending voice commands to a third party for processing, including “personal or other sensitive information”. It was later discovered that this data wasn’t even properly encrypted.

Top Tips to Stay Safe Around Smart TVs

Luckily, there are several steps you can take to protect your privacy when using a smart TV.

1. Read the Privacy Policy and Disagree to Data Collection

Your smart TV can only track you if you give it permission. If your smart TV is new, you’ll be asked to accept a privacy policy when you set it up. Don’t just accept it immediately — look carefully at each screen and disagree with anything that mentions ACR or data collection.

You’ll probably have to accept the manufacturer’s basic privacy policy, otherwise you won’t be able to use your TV. Unfortunately, even if you don’t agree to ACR, some data may still be collected.

Bear in mind that when you opt out of privacy policies and agreements as above, you may be disabling automatic updates, so it’s best to check for firmware and security updates occasionally.

The Samsung smart TV privacy policy. The policy mentions using ACR and other technologies to collect data about what you watch. However, it also says you can opt out by going to the settings menu.

2. Turn It into a Dumb TV

Your smart TV can’t track you if it doesn’t have internet access, so simply go to the settings and turn off the WiFi. If your TV won’t allow you to disconnect from the internet, carry out a factory reset. When it asks for your WiFi password, don’t enter it. Then you can use it as an ordinary “dumb” TV.

But what about Netflix and other streaming services? I recommend you access these platforms with a streaming device like Google Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, or a Fire TV stick. That way, you’ll get the same features as a smart TV — just without the spying.

3. Turn off Smart Settings

If you don’t want to turn off the WiFi, you’ll need to disable your TV’s smart settings. The method will vary depending on which brand and model you have (I’ve included specific instructions in the following section, so read on).

4. Get a VPN for Added Security

A VPN will protect your online traffic from hackers and mask your IP address, which keeps you anonymous and hides your location.

Many smart TVs aren’t natively compatible with VPNs, but there are easy ways to solve this: you can either install a VPN app on your smart TV, cast from a streaming device, connect your smart TV to a VPN-enabled router, or create a WiFi hotspot and set up a virtual router.

ExpressVPN is my top recommendation because it’s compatible with a wide range of smart TVs. It has apps for Samsung, Android, Sony, and LG devices, among others. It can also be used with streaming devices like Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and more.

Protect yourself with ExpressVPN

5. Adjust Privacy Settings to Turn off Data Collection

If you’ve been using your smart TV for a while and you’ve already agreed to the privacy policies, you’ll need to turn off data collection. It’s not always obvious how to do this, so read on for specific instructions.

Turn off Snooping on Samsung TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you set up your TV, you’ll be asked to agree to various sections of the Samsung privacy policy. These include:

  • Viewing Information Services: This is Samsung’s ACR feature. Disagree to this policy.
  • Interest-Based Advertisement Services: Disabling this stops Samsung from using your data to show you relevant ads. You’ll still see ads, but they won’t be based on your viewing history.
  • Voice Recognition: Disagree to this to stop your voice data from being collected. Bear in mind that if you do this, you won’t be able to use voice recognition at all.

If you’ve already set up your TV and agreed to the privacy policies, I’ll explain how you can turn tracking and other snooping features off.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

For newer models:

  1. Go to the main menu and click the Settings icon.
  2. Go to Support and scroll down to Terms and Policies.
  3. Turn off the Viewing Information Services option. You can also turn off Interest-Based Advertising to stop personalized ads.

For older models:

  1. Go to the Smart Hub menu and click the Settings icon.
  2. Click Support and then Terms & Policy.
  3. Go to SyncPlus and Marketing and disable SyncPlus.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

For newer models:

  1. Go to the main menu and click the Settings icon.
  2. Go to Support and scroll down to Terms and Policies.
  3. Turn off the Voice Recognition Services option.

For older models:

  1. Go to the Smart Hub menu and click the Settings icon.
  2. Select Smart Features. Scroll down to Voice Recognition and turn it off.

If your TV has a built-in camera, go to the Samsung Account menu and you’ll find an option to disable it. Alternatively, you can cover it with tape.

Turn off Snooping on Vizio TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you set up your Vizio TV, you’ll be asked to agree or disagree to the following policies:

  • ACR policy: Disagree to ensure your data isn’t collected. This policy will called “Viewing Data” or “Smart Interactivity,” depending on your model.
  • Google policy: You have to agree in order to use your TV. This policy is only present on newer models.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

For most newer models:

  1. Go to System and then Reset & Admin.
  2. Go to Viewing Data and switch it off. You’ll need to use the down arrow on newer TVs and the right arrow on older models.

For older (and a few newer) models:

  • Go to System and then Reset & Admin.
  • Go to Smart Interactivity and press the right arrow to disable tracking.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

Vizio TVs don’t have microphones or cameras.

Turn off Snooping on LG TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you set up your LG TV, you’ll be asked to agree or disagree to several policies.

  • General Terms: You have to agree in order to use your TV.
  • Voice Information policy: Disagree if you don’t want your audio data to be collected by LG’s voice recognition software.
  • Interest-Based Advertisement policy: Disagree if you don’t want viewing information and other data to be collected in order to show you relevant ads.
  • Live Plus: Disagree if you want to turn off LG’s ACR software.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

To disable ACR:

  1. Go to the main menu and click the settings icon in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Go to All Settings in the bottom right-hand corner. Scroll down and click General.
  3. Scroll down and look for LivePlus. Turn this option off.

To turn off interest-based ads:

  1. Go to the main menu and click the settings icon in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Go to All Settings in the bottom right-hand corner. Scroll down and click General.
  3. Go to User Agreements (on older models, this is a submenu of About This TV).
  4. Turn off the Personal Advertising option.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

LG TVs use microphones but not cameras. To turn off voice recording:

  1. Go to the main menu and click the settings icon in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Go to All Settings in the bottom right-hand corner. Scroll down and click General.
  3. Go to User Agreements (on older models, this is a submenu of About This TV).
  4. Disable the Voice Information setting.

Turn off Snooping on Sony TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you set up your Sony TV, you’ll be asked to agree to three privacy policies.

  • Google: Since Sony is now using the Android TV system, you have to agree to Google’s policy to use the TV.
  • Sony: You’ll need to accept Sony’s policy to use the smart TV features.
  • Samba TV: Samba is an ACR provider. Disagree to the Samba TV policy to prevent your activity from being tracked.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

  1. Go to the Home menu and click on Settings.
  2. Go to Initial Setup. If you’re asked to change the network, click “Don’t change”.
  3. Go to the Sony Bravia policy. Agree to it unless you don’t want to use any smart TV features at all.
  4. Click through the next couple of screens and you’ll find the Samba TV policy.
  5. On the right, click “Disable” — it’s the last option. You’ll be asked to confirm you want to do this. Click “Disable” again to turn off ACR.

You can also choose to disable all data uploads, so Sony won’t receive any data about you. This may make some features unavailable. To do this:

  1. Go to the Home menu and click on Settings.
  2. Go to TV About and then Legal Information.
  3. Go to View Privacy Policy and choose Disagree.

If you have an older Sony TV, you may have to select “Disable Upload Data” rather than disagreeing to the privacy policy.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

Sony TVs don’t use microphones or cameras.

Turn off Snooping on Streaming Devices

Your viewing data may be tracked and collected if you’re using streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or Chromecast.

Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast

To opt out of data collection on Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast:

  1. Go to Settings and then System.
  2. Go to Interest-Based Ads and switch this option off.

Roku

To reduce data collection on Roku:

  1. Go to Settings and then System.
  2. Go to Privacy.
  3. Switch on the Limit Ad Tracking option.

Apple TV

Apple TV doesn’t collect search and viewing data, but it might be recording a log file that helps the company identify and diagnose system errors and bugs. If you have this switched on, you can disable it.

For newer models:

  1. Go to General and then Privacy.
  2. Disable the Send Data to Apple option.

For older models:

  1. Go to Settings and then General.
  2. Disable the Send Data to Apple option.

Streaming Services

Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu track your viewing habits. You can delete the individual titles from your viewing history, which stops these services from recommending similar shows, but they are still tracking what you’re watching and your watch duration.

3 Best VPNs to Double up Your Protection

Using a VPN is a great way to stay extra secure when using your smart TV.

My top three VPN recommendations were chosen based on their impressive security features — including no-logs policies, strong encryption, and kill switches — and bonuses like fast speeds and the ability to geo-unblock content.

1. ExpressVPN — Excellent Security Features for Smart TVs

ExpressVPN

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • DNS leak protection
  • Kill switch feature

One of the most respected VPN services on the market, ExpressVPN is my first choice because of its top-of-the-range security. It has apps available for almost all smart TVs and streaming devices, including Android TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, and Apple TV.

Another thing I love about ExpressVPN is that you get unlimited bandwidth — and the speed is among the fastest of any VPN, so you’ll have no trouble streaming your favorite content. You can also access geo-blocked content from all over the world, even in heavily censored countries like China.

You can try ExpressVPN for 30 days risk-free with its money-back guarantee.

Stay safe from hackers with ExpressVPN

2. NordVPN — Blocks Ads and Tracking

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • 5000+ servers in 60+ countries
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • CyberSec feature blocks ads, tracking and suspicious sites
  • Kill switch feature

NordVPN rivals ExpressVPN for security and has many of the same protective functionalities, plus a CyberSec feature that protects you from being tracked online.

This provider is a great option for smart TVs, as it has a dedicated app for Android TV and a built-in SmartPlay feature for securely streaming blocked content. 

Like ExpressVPN, the company has a 30-day money-back guarantee available, so you can get a full refund if you aren’t satisfied.

Block tracking with NordVPN

3. CyberGhost — Privately-Owned NoSpy Servers

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • 5,900 servers in 90+ countries
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • Blocks online tracking and ads
  • Has its own “NoSpy servers”

CyberGhost offers a unique security feature: access to its NoSpy servers. The NoSpy data center is fully managed by CyberGhost staff and located in Romania, outside the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes. This is in contrast to many other VPN providers, which use third-party servers. These NoSpy servers are faster than CyberGhost’s regular servers.

This provider works very well with smart TVs. CyberGhost has servers optimized for streaming specific sites, such as Netflix. It also has apps for Android TV and Amazon Fire Stick.

You can try CyberGhost risk-free with its 45-day money-back guarantee — one of the most generous money-back policies available.

Try CyberGhost risk-free

Don’t Forget — Always Check Your Privacy Settings

You should always review the privacy settings on any technology you use, whether it’s your smart TV, a console, or your smartphone. Remember, agreeing to the privacy policy could mean you’ve given your technology permission to legally spy on you.

But just because it’s legal, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. It’s not always possible to escape tracking, but it’s vital to be aware of what information is being recorded and who it’s being sent to. Being aware of the problem can help you protect your privacy.

Disagree to having your data collected wherever possible, and make sure your connection is secure to keep hackers at bay. I recommend using a VPN like ExpressVPN, which will keep your smart TV safe through encryption and mask your IP address when you’re browsing online.

That means no one — especially not hackers — can spy on your internet activity.

Stay safe with ExpressVPN today!

Bethany Chester
Bethany is a tech writer, blogger, and web security expert. She has a passion for Linux and a keen interest in various aspects of cybersecurity.