We stand with Ukraine to help keep people safe. Join us

Tags Digital Wellness

Can Someone Spy on You Through Smart TV

Put those pants on—you are being watched. Is it possible that your smart TV, the center of your living room, is a Trojan horse? A spy that harvests and sells user data to advertisers making smart TV owners a commodity? Short answer—yes. Long answer—you really should put those pants on. Keep on reading to learn how your smart TV sells you out on a daily basis.

Table of contents

Smart TVs and the apps installed on them, such as Hulu or Netflix, collect streaming habits data from users. Smart TV manufacturers and their authorized partners use the data to give viewers intuitive experiences. However, over the years, popular smart TVs have had bug and hacking issues that exposed users to cyberattacks, so yes, someone can spy on you through your smart TV.

Ways your smart TV is spying on you

Your smart TV is watching you through three simple ways you are already familiar with but might not know how creepy they are. Let us show you.

Through the smart TV camera

As a smartphone owner, how many times have you wondered can hackers see you through your phone camera? Yet, smart TV owners rarely worry about whether the camera in their smart TVs is spying on them.


Not only do the built-in cameras in smart TVs enable video calling, but they also track the user’s facial expressions as they watch content. This lets smart TV manufacturers and their authorized third-party data brokers know the kind of content you enjoy. So, yes, the camera in the smart TV is spying on you, which is creepy because your smart TV can be hacked by bad actors who then can use the video files to blackmail you.

Through the smart TV microphone

Voice recognition is one of the features that make your smart TV smart, and it is powered by a built-in microphone. Besides, you need the microphone to enjoy the video calling feature and issue voice commands to control your smart TV. Smart TVs listening to you shouldn’t be a problem if you want them to. The problem is that the manufacturers can’t guarantee data security.


Samsung even has a disclaimer in its privacy policy stating that they are not to be held responsible for its third-party providers’ privacy or security practices. They also include another bombshell in the privacy policy about how your Samsung TV might record your personal and sensitive information and share it with third parties.

Through the ACR technology

Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) is a visual tracking technology that identifies every content users watch on their smart TVs—TV shows, movies, ads, etc. The ACR identifies content played directly on the TV from third-party streaming services like YouTube, Roku, and Netflix, cable TV, and even Blu-Ray and DVD players. The ACR tracks and checks content against its content database to create a viewing profile for each user based on their watching habit.


As a result, every house with a smart TV has a content viewing profile that includes their IP address, geographic location, and other demographic and psychographic data. Although the ultimate purpose of the ACR is to help smart TV manufacturers provide intuitive viewing experiences, it’s a technology that spies on users 24/7.

How to know if your smart TV is spying on you

Short story time. After getting a promotion at work, Joan decided to reward herself by getting one of the best smart TVs available. Joan, who can’t wait to rewatch old episodes of her favorite shows, agreed to the User Agreement without reading it. Unknown to her, there’s a section in the agreement that lets the TV spy on them 24/7.


One month later, Joan comes home from work to a Steamberry episode of a story so familiar that it sends chills down her spine. They are now lawfully recording her 24/7 and now streaming her life using AI and deep fake technology. They picture her as arrogant, bossy, and coldhearted. ‘Joan is awful’ they called it, because ‘Joan is awesome’ wouldn’t sell as well. Spooky? Invasive? Creepy? Yes. Yes. Yes. She agreed to it, though.


Why wait until your smart TV has been hacked to realize that your smart TV is spying on you? The first sign that your smart TV manufacturer is spying on you is when you start seeing hyper-personalized advertising across your devices and accounts. Hyper-personalized ads are so specific to each user that it feels like someone is watching you with a surveillance cam and eavesdropping on your daily conversations.


As long as you enable settings for content recommendations and voice recognition and use it for video calls, your smart TV is watching you. That said, these are five telltale signs that your smart TV has been hacked and is spying on you.

Unfamiliar apps and files

Review your apps and files. Is there any app or file on your smart TV that you don’t remember installing? Check with other members of your household and anyone else who uses your smart TV to confirm that they didn’t put the unfamiliar apps and files in it. If you still don’t know how the apps and files came to be in your smart TV, then your smart TV has been hacked and is spying on you.

Unusual app activity

Check your usage activity for each app on your smart TV for irregularities. Talk to other people with access to these apps to confirm how often they use them and what they watch. Your user activity might indicate that you are watching a TV show you have never heard of. This suggests that someone outside your household without authorized access is watching them.


Once you notice this, immediately change the password of the affected apps and contact customer support. The hacker may also have access to other apps on your smart TV and be biding their time, so change the password for all your apps.

You’re locked out

Hackers won’t stop at only watching content with your smart TV app. They can go ahead to lock you out of your accounts. Hackers do this to change the password and take control of their target accounts.


Once locked out, follow these steps to mitigate the damage:

  1. Use the “forgot password” prompt to change your password immediately—this will work if the hacker hasn’t accessed the registered email on the account.
  2. Next, inform your bank or credit card provider about the hack to prevent unauthorized transactions on the card registered to the account.
  3. Inform the app customer support.
  4. Finally, change your password across all apps and accounts.

Fake off mode

A fake off mode is a hacking disguise technique that lets a smart TV appear turned off when it is not. Once a fake-off program has been installed into a TV, it can turn off the TV’s backlights to make the screen go dark as if it’s turned off. During a fake-off mode, hackers can access the TV’s camera and microphone to record audio and videos of their unsuspecting victims.


Always confirm that the power-on LED light indicator on your TV is off when you turn off your TV. LED light staying on after you’ve turned off your TV is a sign that your smart TV is watching you.

TV functions by itself

Another way to tell that your smart TV is spying on you is if you notice it is acting as if it has a mind of its own. You might see the volume levels go up or down without your commands, camera or microphone icons enabled when not in use, or random settings changes. These are signs that someone with remote access to your smart TV is controlling it and spying on you.


Once you notice this, disconnect your smart TV from the internet and unplug it from its power source to turn it off, then consult a cybersecurity expert.

How to stop your smart TV from spying on you

The good news is that smart TV owners can take control of their viewing data and stop hackers from snooping on them. Here are the simple security practices that can protect your smart TV from hackers and data collectors.


In a world where tracking cookies follow every individual from one device or online account to another, VPNs will keep your browsing activities private. A virtual private network (VPN) will mask your IP address as your smart TV is connected to the internet. Without your actual IP address, it will be harder for smart TV manufacturers and data brokers to create a viewing profile for you.


Download a premium VPN app to your smart TV if it is natively compatible with VPNs. You can also use a VPN-enabled router which will protect all the devices connected to the network. If you can’t do either, consider creating a Wi-Fi hotspot and a virtual router specially for your smart TV. If you use a streaming service like Roku or Apple TV, create an extra security layer with a VPN.

Turn the internet connection off

Another way to stop smart TVs from listening to you and collecting your viewing data is by turning off your internet connection. Be mindful that this is a drastic measure that will make your smart TV “dumb” without the smart TV features you like about it. However, you can use a streaming service or TV to access your favorite shows and movies.


Once you decide this is the best way to guarantee data privacy, go to your smart TV settings and disable Wi-Fi or Ethernet internet connection. If you can’t find the setting for turning off the internet connection on your smart TV, do a factory reset, and don’t enter your Wi-Fi password when it asks. You will have peace of mind knowing that your data remains offline where your TV manufacturer, authorized third-party partners, and bad actors can’t access it.

Turn smart options off

What if you want to limit access to your viewing data but still want to enjoy some of the smart features of the smart TV? You can turn off select smart features like voice recognition and video calling by disabling the built-in microphone and camera. Doing this will stop your smart TV from watching you and remove its voice and video tracking capabilities.


For LG smart TVs:

  1. Go to the Main Menu
  2. Open Settings > All Settings
  3. Scroll down and click on General
  4. Find the User Agreements
  5. Disable Voice Information.

For Samsung smart TVs (older):

  1. Go to the Smart Hub menu
  2. Open Settings
  3. Select Smart Features button
  4. Scroll down to Voice Recognition and turn it off.

For Samsung smart TVs (newer):

  1. Go to the main menu
  2. Open Settings
  3. Select Support tab
  4. Scroll down to Terms and Policies
  5. Turn off Voice Recognition Services.

Turn off voice recording on Samsung smart TVs:

  1. Go to Home
  2. Open Settings
  3. Select System
  4. Click Expert Settings
  5. Turn off Voice Interaction.

For Sony and Vizio smart TVs:

Sony and Vizio don’t include built-in cameras or microphones in their smart TVs. If you have attached an external microphone or/and camera, unplug the device(s) to stop your smart TV from spying on you.

Easy fix

You can also go the classic route and use black tape to cover the camera on your smart TV.

Disable ACR

We mentioned above that ACR technology is one of the ways your smart TV is watching you and collecting your viewing data every time you watch content. While every smart TV has ACR technology, manufacturers use different names. In this section, we will show you how to disable the ACR technology in the following popular smart TV:


The ACR technology in LG TVs is called Live Plus. Follow these steps to disable ACR on your LG TV:

  1. Press the Settings button on the remote control
  2. Scroll down to All Settings
  3. Select General
  4. Choose the About This TV option
  5. Scroll down to User Agreements
  6. Turn off Personalized Advertising—you may find Live Plus User Agreement instead, be sure to turn it off.


Turning off Live Plus on LG TV will affect your viewing experience. Hence, you will have limited access to content recommendations and free streaming channels from Xumo, a partner of LG TV.


When you turn on a new Sony smart TV, you will see three privacy policies—Google, Samba TV, and Sony. Since 2018, Google has partnered with Sony to provide Android support, and there’s no opt-out option.


Samba TV provides ACR technology which is regulated by Sony Bravia’s privacy policy. You can choose “disagree” with Sony’s privacy policy, but that will limit your smart TV features.


Follow these steps to disable ACR on your Sony smart TV (Samba):

  1. Press the Home button on the remote control
  2. Select Settings
  3. Choose Initial Setup—if you see a prompt asking you to change the network, choose “Don’t change
  4. Go to Sony Bravia policy, and Agree or Disagree if you don’t want any smart TV features
  5. Go to Samba TV policy
  6. Find the Disable button on the right
  7. Click and confirm your decision to turn off ACR.

Alternative steps to disable ACR on Sony smart TVs:

  1. Press the Home button on the remote control
  2. Select Settings
  3. Go to System Preferences
  4. Select Samba TV or Interactive TV settings, depending on your Sony TV model
  5. Select Disable or Off on Interactive TV to turn off ACR.


Older Sony smart TV models were launched without Samba TV, and you might have added it later during a software update.


Samsung has been accused many times of spying on their smart TV owners and leaking their personal and sensitive data to third parties. You owe yourself the duty of taking control of your data and preventing Samsung from collecting your data 24/7. The ACR technology that lets your Samsung smart TV spy on you is called Viewing Information Services.


Follow these steps to disable ACR in newer Samsung smart TV models:

  1. Go to the Main menu
  2. Click the Settings icon
  3. Go to the Support tab
  4. Scroll down to Terms and Policies
  5. Turn off Viewing Information Services to disable ACR.

For older Samsung Smart TVs, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the Smart Hub menu
  2. Click the Settings icon
  3. Go to the Support tab
  4. Select Terms & Policy
  5. Go to SyncPlus and Marketing
  6. Disable SyncPlus to turn off ACR.


You can also turn off Interest-Based Advertising to stop your Samsung smart TV from collecting your data for personalized ads. You will still see ads, but they will not be based on your streaming habits.


Although Vizio smart TVs don’t have built-in cameras and microphones, Vizio uses its ACR technology called Viewing Data to spy on users. Therefore, owners must be willing to disable a few smart features on their Vizio TV to prevent snooping, starting with Viewing data.


Follow these steps to disable ACR in newer Vizio smart TV models:  

  1. Press the Main menu button
  2. Navigate to Settings
  3. Select System
  4. Choose Reset & Admin
  5. Find Viewing Data and turn it off to disable ACR.


For older Vizio smart TVs, follow these steps, but instead of Viewing Data, look out for Smart Interactivity, and toggle it off to disable ACR.

Why is it dangerous to let your smart TV spy on you?

We’ve established that Smart TV manufacturers collect usage data and share with third-party partners. That alone is enough danger to your data privacy because neither smart TVs nor their authorized partners are cybersecurity experts. Should there be a data breach that affects your smart TV manufacturer or one of their authorized partners, cybercriminals will have access to your data, passwords, emails, etc.


Not to mention that smart TV manufacturers sell usage data to advertisers. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused Vizio of collecting viewing data from 11 million smart TVs without users’ consent and selling them to 3rd-party partners. From then on, the data can end up anywhere, including the dark web, where hackers can get delicate and specific information about smart TV users.


However, it gets worse. Your smart TV can be the gateway for cybercriminals to break into your home Wi-Fi. In 2018, bug incidents in several Sony smart TVs allowed them to be remotely accessed by anyone connected to the same local network without requiring authentication. Although Sony has since fixed the bugs, this shows that smart TV owners are at risk of unauthorized access. Even the CIA has been accused of hacking some Samsung smart TV models and spying on their targets with a Fake Off mode.


Mind you, smart TVs are not the only devices that can be hacked because of their data-gathering technology. You can stop unwanted tracking of your browsing data across your devices with the Clairo AntiSpy tool. Available on MacOS, Windows, Android, and iOS. Once you disabled data-gathering features on your smart TV, make sure you keep your private data safe on other devices with Clario AntiSpy’s browsing protection:

  1. Download Clario AntiSpy and create an account
  2. Navigate to Safe browsing on the dashboard and install the Clario Chrome extension
A screenshot of the Clario AntiSpy tool showing a drop down menu including the Clario Safe browsing extension for Chrome browser

3. Add the Clario Secure Browsing extension to Chrome

A screenshot of the Chrome Browser Extensions page showing the Add to Chrome button for Clario Secure Browsing extension

Clairo AntiSpy’s browsing protection tool comes with four cybersecurity pillars—an ad blocker, web security, anti-malware protection, and a tracking blocker.


Every smart TV manufacturer is a culprit, and whether or not they promise data privacy is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. They simply can’t offer strong data security therefore, you must take matters into your hands and improve your data privacy. Use this article as a guide to secure your smart TV. Ensure to protect the other devices connected to your router against hacking with the Clario AntiSpy tool.

Keep reading

Stop them from spying on you with Clario AntiSpy.

Get started