It is common knowledge by now that our every move is tracked online. Our browsing history, purchasing behavior and profile information that we give away is bought, sold and shared to create an accurate (and theoretically anonymous) picture of who you are so advertisers can more accurately target you. This happens on your computer, tablet and phone, but what about your that fancy new 4k smart TV you just bought?
Surely the only people who know what you're watching are the streaming services you subscribe to? Anyone would expect Netflix and Hulu to be tracking your watch habits, that’s not so creepy — but what about your TV itself? Most smart TV manufacturers know everything you watch whether it’s through a streaming service, digital cable, or even your antennae. They do this through “Automatic Content Recognition” technology or ACR.
Think of ACR as “glass level” tracking, as in the glass of your television. Pixels from the program and advertisements you watch are analyzed second by second by ACR software and cross referenced with a database to determine exactly what you are watching and from where you sourced the content. Your IP address is also collected during this process to determine your location and to match you up with other audience information associated with your IP previously collected from other sources.
If you did not know that TV manufacturers had this capability, this might be a bit jarring. Every single image pumped out of your living room TV is recorded and associated with a profile these companies created for you, and you let them do it.
When you set up your new smart TV there is a prompt that asked if your watching habits can be collected, usually under the guise of better serving you through more personalized content recommendations, but with fine print stating the true intent.
Although, Vizio learned the hard way that manufactures must be more forthright about their data collection policies when the FTC laid the smackdown on them.
Vizio and Samsung are the major players in ACR given that together they make up 33% and 24% of smart TV market share in the US. But the little guys want to get in on the action as well. Companies like Samba TV collect ACR data from ten Smart TV OEMs by integrating "Samba’s chipset technology directly into their operating systems”. This data is then collected, organized and sold to advertisers so they can better plan, measure and target audiences.
Accessing consumer watch habits across all sources on smart TVs may have marketers foaming at the mouth, but consumers should be aware of this new form of tracking. That dumb TV is now very smart, and it’s watching your every move.