How to Stop Your Smart TV from Spying on You (Updated 2020)

Last Updated by Bethany Chester on February 01, 2020

Warning: Your smart TV could be spying on you in your own home! Make sure to change your permission settings and get a VPN for double protection.

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 and your TV’s camera and microphone 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 — like ExpressVPN — are some steps you can take to prevent your smart TV from spying on you.

Stay safe from your smart TV with ExpressVPN! 

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?

1. 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.

2. 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.

8 headlines from the 2016 Samsung Smart TV privacy scandal

Encrypt your personal data with ExpressVPN 

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 without reading it — 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.

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

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. Using a VPN with your streaming device will add more security. It will also allow you to unblock various streaming services like Netflix libraries from other countries.

 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 sections, 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.

However, many smart TVs aren’t natively compatible with VPNs. You can solve this by:

  • Installing a VPN app on your smart TV
  • Casting from a streaming device
  • Connecting your smart TV to a VPN-enabled router
  • Creating a WiFi hotspot and setting up a virtual router

If you’re looking to get a VPN, ExpressVPN is my top recommendation because it’s compatible with a wide range of smart TVs like Samsung, LG, Sony, and Android. Depending on the type of smart TV you have, you can either install it through the Google Play Store or on your router. It can also be used with streaming devices like Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and more.

Warning: You can use ExpressVPN on your smart TV by setting up MediaStreamer. But while this will allow you to unblock content, it won’t protect your privacy. To stop your TV from spying on you, you’ll need to install ExpressVPN on your TV or router.

Get added security 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 on how to do this for:

How VPNs Can Protect You from Your Smart TV

A VPN can help you stay safe around your smart TV by:

  • Encrypting your personal data. The best VPNs — like ExpressVPN — use military-grade encryption to make sure no-one can intercept your data. This is really important because some smart TVs have been found to transmit data unencrypted.
  • Blocking ads and tracking. Many VPNs have features that stop marketers from tracking your activity and using it to target ads to you.
  • Hiding your real IP address. This prevents anyone from being able to work out where you are. Changing your IP address also makes it harder for anyone to track you.

Stay safe from your smart TV with ExpressVPN!

Turn off Snooping on Samsung TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you set up your brand new TV, you should disagree to the following sections of the Samsung privacy policy.

  • Viewing Information Services: This is Samsung’s ACR feature.
  • 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. If you do this, you won’t be able to use voice recognition at all.

If you’re already using an existing Samsung TV, here’s how you can quickly turn off its snooping features.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

For newer Samsung TV models (2017-2019):

  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 Samsung TV models (2014-2016):

  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.

For additional security, you can install a VPN with a feature that blocks tracking, such as NordVPN with its CyberSec feature.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

For newer Samsung TV models (2017-2019):

  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 Samsung TV models (2014-2016):

  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, you can cover it with opaque tape.

Turn off Snooping on Vizio TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

In 2017, Vizio was caught collecting and selling data without notifying users or asking for permission. A court order forced it to start asking users for consent, but your Vizio TV could still track you if you accept the privacy policies.

When you first set up your brand new Vizio TV, it’s especially important to disagree to the ACR policy to ensure your data isn’t collected. This policy will be called “Viewing Data” or “Smart Interactivity,” depending on your model.

There may also be a Google policy, which you’ll have to agree to in order to use your TV. This policy is only present on newer Vizio TV models.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

For most newer Vizio TV models (2017-2019):

  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) Vizio TV models (2014-2016):

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

To make sure no-one can track you, consider installing a VPN with a feature that blocks tracking, such as NordVPN.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

Vizio TVs don’t have built-in microphones or cameras. If you have an external camera, leave it unplugged whenever possible.

Turn off Snooping on LG TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you first set up your new LG TV, you can disagree to the following policies.

  • Voice Information policy: Prevents your audio data from being collected by LG’s voice recognition software.
  • Interest-Based Advertisement policy: Prevents your viewing information and other data from being collected in order to show you relevant ads.
  • Live Plus: Turns off LG’s ACR software.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to agree to the General Terms policy in order to use your TV. But by using a VPN, such as ExpressVPN, you can make sure your sensitive data stays private.

How to Disable Activity Tracking

These instructions will ensure that ACR is disabled and your data won’t be used for targeted advertising.

  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.
  4. Go back to General and select User Agreements (on models from before 2015, this is a submenu of About This TV).
  5. Turn off the Personal Advertising option.

Install a VPN that blocks tracking, such as NordVPN, for extra protection.

How to Disable Voice Recording and 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 models from before 2015, this is a submenu of About This TV).
  4. Disable the Voice Information setting.

Most LG TVs don’t have built-in cameras, but a few models have retractable ones. If you have one of these, keep the camera pushed down to prevent it from spying on you.

LG also offers external smart TV cameras. If you have one, make sure you don’t leave it plugged in.

Turn off Snooping on Sony TVs

How to Disagree to Data Collection Policies

When you turn on your new Sony TV for the first time, you’ll be prompted to review 3 privacy policies:

  1. Google — Since Sony is now using the Android TV system, you have to agree to Google’s policy to use the TV. Consider using ExpressVPN’s native Android TV app to prevent Google from collecting your data.
  2. Samba TV — Disagree to the Samba TV policy to prevent your activity from being tracked.
  3. Sony — You can disagree to Sony’s policy, but you won’t be able to use the smart TV features if you do so.

Stop Google from tracking you with ExpressVPN!

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.
  6. Click “Disable” again to turn off ACR.

Though some older Sony models were launched without Samba TV, it may be added later by a software update. If this happens, you’ll be prompted to review the privacy policy.

You can also choose to disable all data uploads, so Sony won’t receive any data about you. 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 your Sony TV is from 2014 or earlier, you may have to select “Disable Upload Data” rather than disagreeing to the privacy policy.

In 2018, several bugs were found with Sony Bravia TVs which meant that they could be accessed remotely without authentication by anyone connected to the same local network. The bugs have since been fixed. However, this illustrates why it’s really important to use a VPN, such as ExpressVPN, to make sure all your data is encrypted.

How to Disable Voice Recording and Cameras

Sony TVs don’t have built-in microphones or cameras, but external cameras are available. If you have one, make sure you don’t leave it plugged in.

Turn off Snooping on Streaming Devices

If you’re using streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or Chromecast, your viewing data may also be tracked and collected. Here’s what you can do about it.

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

On Roku, you can reduce the amount of data collected for targeted advertising but not turn it off altogether. To reduce tracking:

  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 if you opt in, it does record 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.

3 Best VPNs to Double up Your Protection

Even after you change your settings, your smart TV or streaming device could still be recording and selling some of your personal data. A VPN can help by encrypting all your data and blocking advertisers from tracking you.

1. ExpressVPN — Military-Grade Encryption

ExpressVPN

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • DNS leak protection
  • Kill switch feature

Having tested ExpressVPN, it’s my first choice because of its top-of-the-range security. It uses the strongest available encryption and has a strict no-logs policy, meaning it doesn’t store any of your information. The kill switch ensures your personal data is always safe from advertisers, marketers, and hackers, even if the VPN connection drops. With all these security features, you’ll be able to use your smart TV with peace of mind.

ExpressVPN has dedicated apps for Android TV and Amazon Fire Stick — it even works on second-generation or later Fire Sticks, Fire TVs, and Fire TV Cubes. It can be used with almost any smart TV or streaming device, including Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV. This service features a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out with no risk.

Keep your data private with ExpressVPN

2. NordVPN — Blocks Ads and Tracking

image of nordvpn homepage on mobile, tablet, and laptop screens

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • CyberSec feature blocks ads, tracking and suspicious sites
  • Kill switch feature

NordVPN rivals ExpressVPN for security and has many of the same protective functionalities, like 256-bit AES encryption to keep your data safe. Its CyberSec feature is especially useful on smart TVs, as it blocks ads and makes sure you can’t be tracked.

NordVPN has a strict no-logs policy, meaning it never stores any of your data. It’s also the only VPN on this list to have had its policy independently audited. The audit was carried out by PwC and confirmed that NordVPN doesn’t keep any logs.

NordVPN has a dedicated app for Android TV and a built-in SmartPlay feature for securely streaming blocked content. Like ExpressVPN, it 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 — NoSpy Servers

Key Features:

  • Military-grade encryption
  • Strict no-logs policy
  • 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 alliance. That means your personal data is safe from any interference and you don’t have to worry about it being logged or shared with third parties.

There are CyberGhost apps available for Android TV and Amazon Fire Stick. Another great benefit of the service is that it has several servers optimized for unblocking specific streaming sites, such as Netflix. This makes it ideal for use on a smart TV. The company offers a 45-day money-back guarantee too, so you can try it risk-free.

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!

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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.