Last week Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the Computers, Privacy & Data Protection conference about privacy to coincide with Data Privacy Day. Apple published the 12 minute speech yesterday in which express concerns were repeated, arguing that digital advertising marketers have and continue to invade personal privacy whilst detailing the potential ramifications of such actions.
“As I’ve said before, if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, we lose so much more than data, we lose the freedom to be human. And yet, this is a hopeful new season, a time of thoughtfulness and reform.”
Apple prides itself in actively keeping your data safe from third parties and that extends to the TV viewing experience, be it through Apple TV hardware, the TV app or AirPlay. Before I get into certain protections that Apple have in place it's important to draw some comparisons and explain what Apple are protecting against.
Whilst most focus will be on social media companies infamous for harvesting user data, the same has been happening on the majority of “smart” televisions and streaming devices for some time now. That data harvesting is happening through a technology called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) which scrapes viewing data in order to identify every show you play - including those you get over cable, over-the-air-broadcasts, streaming services, connected devices and even physical media like DVD’s and Blu-Ray. That data is then distributed to hardware vendors and third party marketers to better target advertising to you, using your IP address so that targeted ads can follow you across other connected devices like your phone or personal computer and then beyond your home network.
Given Apple's stance on data privacy, it was a surprise when the TV app, AirPlay and HomeKit began rolling out to some of the biggest offenders in 2019. What was quickly made known by the Cupertino company was that in order for those manufacturers to gain access to Apple’s services and appear more compelling to Apple customers, they would have to respect Apple customer privacy by disabling ACR when Apple services were in use.
Unfortunately there’s no evidence to suggest that the previously mentioned agreements extend to connected Apple TV hardware so here are some instructions on how to safely disable ACR on some of the most popular television brands to help make certain that your Apple TV viewing data remains yours.
Sigmund is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ScreenTimes where he began his Apple TV coverage in 2016. With an unwavering passion for Apple, storytelling and storytellers alike, he writes about Apple TV with a focus on the arts, development, tvOS, home theatre and accessibility. Sigmund also co-host’s Magic Rays of Light, a weekly podcast exploring the world of Apple TV and the many talents bringing our screens to life.