A new report seems to confirm what you could probably already guess: that, like every other device you own, some TV streaming devices are collecting lots of data about what you do.
The report comes from Princeton University and the University of Chicago, and focuses on two platforms: Roku and Amazon Fire TV. To see what apps on these two services tracked, the people behind the study created what they call “smart crawlers.”
They essentially did the same thing humans would do — install apps (the top 1,000 on each device) and watch videos — while taking a look at the data that was collected any time an ad was shown. You can guess where this is going.
According to the findings, trackers were present on 69 percent of Roku apps and 89 percent of Amazon Fire TV apps. Among the data being tracked were “unique identifiers, such as device IDs, serial numbers, WiFI MAC addresses and SSIDs” (wireless network names). And these were, according to the report, occasionally shared over “unencrypted connections.”
Adding more cause for concern, the paper reports that “countermeasures available on these devices, such as limiting ad tracking options and adblocking, are particularly ineffective.”
The data showed that trackers from the Google-owned doubleclick.net was tops on Roku, found on 975 apps, while an Amazon ad tracker was most often found on Fire TV, discovered on 687 apps.
Meanwhile, nine of the top 10 apps by tracker count on Roku were games, while five of the top 10 apps on Amazon Fire were from local news stations.
The entire report is worth combing through for even more granular detail about the apps, videos, ads, and information collected, as well as the intricate method taken to create the “smart crawlers.”
No reason is given as to why they didn’t include Apple TV, though the researchers mention Apple’s App Transport Security feature as something other platforms should emulate to prevent “insecure connections.” That said, the researchers say they believe the crawlers can be adapted to run on Apple TV as well as Samsung and Vizio smart TV platforms.
We’ve reached out to Amazon and Roku for further comment.