HomeTechA thumbs down for streaming privacy

A thumbs down for streaming privacy


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

There is an expression about the personal information gathering practices of free digital services that sell ads, including Facebook and weather apps: if you don’t pay for the product, you they are the product.

But sometimes you can pay for a product other be the product.

Common sense means, a nonprofit advocacy group for children and families, published a report This week it found that most of America’s popular TV streaming services and TV streaming devices, such as Netflix, Roku and Disney +, did not meet the group’s minimum requirements for privacy and security practices. The only exception was Apple.

We’ve gotten used to the corporate arms race to keep track of every mouse click and credit card swipe. But what’s surprising about the group’s report is that the streaming entertainment products that people pay for out of pocket have some of the same data habits as sites like Facebook and Google that make money renting our data for advertising.

“This should be a wake-up call to streaming platforms,” ​​James P. Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, told me. “These platforms can and should do better, and I think they will.”

The organization said streaming companies could be doing more to keep the data they collect from American households to themselves, create exceptions to their information practices to better protect children, and offer more assurance that people’s data they will not be used to bombard customers with advertisements on the Internet or entered into files compiled by data brokers.

Researchers have previously analyzed the data habits of some streaming products. What Common Sense Media did with this latest report was cleverly comprehensive. It examined the privacy policies of 10 online video services, like HBO Max, and five streaming devices, including Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV. The organization also set up computer systems to track where digital information was going left by video streaming devices or applications.

Common Sense Media found that most companies in their analysis could use information about what people do on their services to tailor ads to customers on the Internet, or allow other companies to do the same. He could see, for example, that many of the streaming companies passed data to the advertising businesses of Amazon and Google.

Some streaming companies, including Netflix, say they typically don’t let other companies know what we see in a Friday night binge session. Some others in the analysis leave open the possibility that the information about what we see can be used for targeted advertisements or for other purposes.

Data from streaming companies could also end up with companies that collect a lot of information, such as what brand of toothpaste you buy from the store and what you do on your phone. And Common Sense Media said some efforts to offer clients informed consent were too complicated. For example, the organization said Amazon asked people on a Fire streaming device to click 25 policies to use the device, plus two more to use its Alexa voice assistant.

The organization said that Apple, which promotes its consumer privacy principles but does not always comply your declared ideals, had stronger protections on its Apple TV + video streaming service and its TV connector device called Apple TV than the others tested.

(Apple helps fund a Common Sense Media information literacy program for schools, and is among the companies that license the organization’s ratings and reviews. Common Sense Media told me that does not influence their privacy assessments. ).

Not all the collection or use of our data is necessarily harmful. Streaming companies use people’s information to help us reset a forgotten password and make sure we can watch Hulu while hopping from smartphone to TV.

The problem Common Sense Media highlights is that Americans, with limited exceptions, simply cannot know what companies are doing with all the information they collect about us. For the most part, we have to rely on legal documents that offer an illusion of control and think about the hypothetical risks of what could go wrong with our personal information in nature.

That condition has contributed to Americans distrust of technology companies and worries about what happens to our personal data, but Steyer said there is a silver lining to our collective anxiety: Businesses and politicians know that more Americans care about information privacy.

“I am incredibly pleased to see the fundamental shift in public perception and awareness, and that is what will drive both political change and industry change,” said Steyer. “The tide is turning.”

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