With the GDPR privacy regulations coming from Europe, many companies are starting to divulge the technology they use for tracking purposes. The latest from Roku had an interesting trail of bread crumbs:
In the Smart TV Experience and ACR section, it says:
Roku also collects information about what you watch and when you watch (e.g., the programs, commercials and channels you viewed, and the date, time and duration of the viewing) via your Roku TV’s antenna, and devices connected to your Roku TV, including cable and satellite set top boxes. To do this, Roku uses technology such as ACR technology….
Sec. C, Pt. 2 – Information Usage – 10. to protect, investigate, and deter against fraudulent, unauthorized, infringing or illegal activity.
ACR? What’s that? Look it up on Wikipedia and you find:
Audio based ACR is commonly used in the market. The two leading methodologies are acoustic fingerprinting and watermarking. Another common approach uses video fingerprinting. Acoustic fingerprinting generates unique fingerprints from the content itself. Fingerprinting techniques work regardless of content format, codec, bitrate and compression techniques. This makes it possible to use across networks and channels. Therefore, it is widely used for interactive TV, second screen application and content monitoring sectors.[dead link]Popular apps like Shazam, YouTube, Facebook, Thetake, Wechat and Weibo are using audio fingerprinting methodology to recognize the content played from a TV and trigger additional features like votes, lotteries, topics or purchases. In contrast to fingerprinting, digital watermarking requires inserting digital tags containing information about the content into the content itself prior to distribution. For example, a broadcast encoder might insert a watermark every few seconds that could be used to identify to broadcast channel, program id, and time stamp. The watermark is normally inaudible or invisible to the users. Terminal devices like phones or tablets read the watermarks instead of actually recognizing the played content. Watermarking technology is utilized in media protection field to trace where illegal copies originate
Forbes has an article on the subject:
In that article, they point out that:
ACR data from smart TVs is the only way to get glass-level measurement on what people are watching. That means that whether they are watching Hulu on a Roku, ABC using a rooftop antenna, an On Demand show from Comcast via set-top box or a show they’re watching via Direct TV Now on an Xbox, it will be counted.
All modern TV’s larger than your computer screen are now Smart TVs. They expected to be connected to your home network and provide you internet content, but not only do they watch what you watch, they can also report back everything you are talking about, whether you’re in the room to watch the ads being blasted into your brain or if you’re in the kitchen (Google it, you won’t like what you find). Now, if you use Roku to play movies you’ve ripped from DVD (or any transcode media file with deliberate, particular tagging) your TV will phone home and rat you out.
I rip all my DVD’s to the home media server – no jockying discs and you have a nice movie database to pick from in situ, easy to search, easy to use. We shouldn’t be labelled as pirates because of this.
Perhaps the digital watermark is specific enough that the MPAA can download pirated movies from the “dark web”, change their watermarking and upload them again so that if you play that on your home media server, the SmartTV will only key on that watermark. Perhaps, but are you willing to explain the difference when your service is terminated and you get a knock on the door? I’m not being paranoid – someone broke into my friend’s wireless and used it to torrent media and that’s exactly what happened to him. It was a bitch for him to correct that whole scenario.
In the end I don’t want anybody to know what I’m watching at 11 at night in my boxers with a beer or where I got it from. If they want to know they can ask (and when I don’t reply, tough luck).
Another thing to watch out for us ultrasound TV to smartphone signals:
In order to defeat these technologies, don’t connect your SmartTV to your home network OR make darn sure your TV is using a VPN connection so that the exit IP can’t be tracked to your Comcast/Cox Cable/CenturyLink DSL account. I know, for many that defeats the purpose of a Smart TV but consider this: save money and don’t buy an all-in-one TV, just buy a nice TV and a separate multimedia / DVD / Blu-ray player. That way you can play anything you want and your TV has no means to phone home, nor report whether you’re watching commercials or leaving the room, reporting on your conversations, etc.
Note in Projects in the main menu, the Spread Spectrum VPN Project: this can provide whole-home VPN tunneling so that all computers, your smartphone and even your TV and media players all go over your VPN provider (such as NordVPN).
This also applies to the Roku now – if you use Roku to stream media from Plex (or direct from file) and it’s downloaded media, it’ll rat you out. Use whole-house VPN or firewall the Roku from being able to contact the public internet at all unless you use it to watch Netflix (may not work over a VPN…). It only watches what you watch – if it’s firewalled while you’re watching your transcoded files, you’re good.