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Data protection on Smart TV: How to prevent data espionage

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If you surf the net with your laptop and smartphone or are out and about in social networks, you are aware of what is happening in the background. Data is recorded, queried and evaluated. Due to the GDPR, every website asks for your consent for cookies and co. For marketing purposes. Consumers are aware of the potential for "espionage" - to put it bluntly -. But what about smart TVs?

You know it for sure: You are watching a film and suddenly advertising appears in the middle of the picture - even in the television menu. Or you will see “Smart TV Commercials”. Cases such as that of Samsung and its Smart TVs from the end of 2020 show that data protection and the collection of data also play a major role in smart TVs. In principle, however, this problem affects all devices with an Internet connection. The difficulty: Many users are not clear about the data collection. In politics, too, the development of data protection for smart TVs is still in its infancy.

Bundeskartellamt: Smart TVs are inadequate

The Federal Cartel Office has also recognized that there is a need for action with Internet-enabled televisions. In a report (summer 2020), the office rated IT security and data protection for smart TVs as inadequate. The reasons: The television sets analyze the behavior of their users, such as surfing or clicking behavior or apps that are used frequently. In addition, there is the acquisition of biometric data, such as the voice. The goal: personalized advertising.

In addition, it is not clear to consumers whether and which data is being collected. An enormous amount of effort is required to change the data protection settings. You'll have to fight your way through the system settings and look for the appropriate options there to disable them. Apart from that, there is a lack of guaranteed IT security, such as updates from the manufacturer, says the Federal Cartel Office.

Smart televisions access this information

Since there is initially no concession from manufacturers, the question arises: What can you do about the collection of data? The first step in the right direction is to become aware that no matter what device you use to navigate the Internet, you are leaving a digital fingerprint.

It is important to know that many manufacturers have a general and uniform data protection policy. This means that if you use a smartphone and a television set from the same company, for example, you agree to certain data protection and marketing options on the television, which then also apply to your mobile phone. But this is not always the case - if in doubt: inform. In addition to the manufacturer of the television, app developers, online portal operators and the like also use your data for (cross-media) advertising purposes.

With regard to data collection, one has to distinguish between three different categories:

  • Information about the device: IP address, location, device number or advertising ID
  • User data: Date of birth, contact details, email address or bank details
  • User behavior on TV: Interactions of the user with the television set, for example cursor movement or websites visited

Accordingly, you should always ask yourself what information your television can collect about you and what data you want to share at all.

Smart TVs and data protection: get active

The manufacturers and their marketing and advertising intentions do not force themselves on you, on the contrary: You can actively object to the data collection. There are different possibilities for this.

If you are about to buy a Smart TV, you can find out about the usual data protection regulations from the manufacturer in advance. Not to forget: the software update guarantee. It provides information about how long your device will be kept up-to-date and how you can use it safely. If the software and Co. are not updated, the risk of security gaps increases. The problem: only a few manufacturers provide information on their website about their data protection regulations.

If you have already bought the television but have not yet set it up, this is the moment. When setting up, take an active part in the data protection regulations and take the time to read them - including the fine print. Then you can also object to any request and deactivate the setting. In short: if you want to protect your data, allow as little as possible from the start. You can of course change all of these options afterwards in the system settings.

Avoid Data Collection: These Tricks Will Help You

Aside from unchecking your TV's system settings, there are other things you can do to protect yourself.

  • Watch out for security updates: Updates bring your Smart TV up to date and guarantee you safe use by closing security gaps. If you are offered an update, install it.
  • Uninstall apps: Apps are also preinstalled on your television or you have installed a lot of applications yourself. All apps collect data even when you no longer use them. Therefore: Delete all apps from your TV that you no longer need.
  • Deactivate applications: These include applications such as HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV), which is usually stored on the red button on the remote control. If you press the button, HbbTV provides you with background information from the network about the program you are currently watching. If you don't use your voice to control your TV, deactivate voice recognition. The same applies to built-in webcams.
  • Avoid shopping trips: You should refrain from surfing, shopping or consuming things on the Smart TV where sensitive data - such as bank details or account data - are requested. So you can protect yourself in general and above all in an easy way.
  • Disconnect from the Internet: If the going gets tough and you feel unsafe, you can also disconnect your Smart TV from the Internet. Then you can no longer use internet-based applications such as Netflix. In this case, the question of whether it makes sense to buy a smart TV also arises.
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