For the increasing number of viewers who watch streaming services rather than broadcast TV, the tradeoff may seem straightforward: You sit through commercials and then pay a low price (or nothing at all) for viewing content.While Apple is now getting users’ permission to track their activity on other apps and Google plans to eliminate third-party cookies on its Chrome browser next year, advertisers are experimenting with new options. (Some states, including California, Colorado, Virginia, Utah and, starting in 2023, Connecticut, have passed privacy laws as well.)
Smart TVs like Roku and Fire TV don’t make it easy to opt out of tracking. Smart TVs can also monitor everything you’re watching and sometimes sell that data to marketers. Such services also know not only what you’re watching and where you’re watching it, but your name, email address and even credit card information as well. (Researchers also found that Amazon’s Alexa and Echo were also listening to you and targeting you with ads.)
Part of the reason that smart TVs are relatively cheap right now is because smart TV manufacturers make money off ad targeting.
The reason that Netflix and others are moving towards advertising is that they’re sitting on stores of data that can be activated by advertising.
The upshot is that over time, you as a viewer may get ads that are more focused to your needs, but you may not realize how closely your TV is watching you to get it.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, said that the OTT system, which is the foundation for the larger digital marketing world, isn’t being upfront with users of that system. “We believe they are breaking laws regarding disclosure, fairness and deception,” Chester said. He added that he hoped the Federal Trade Commission’s current review to regulate programmatic advertising could “help regulate this space.”