If you bought a new smart TV during any of the holiday sales, there's likely to be an uninvited guest watching along with you. The most popular smart TVs sold today use automatic content recognition (ACR), a kind of ad surveillance technology that collects data on everything you view and sends it to a proprietary database to identify what you're watching and serve you highly targeted ads. The software is largely hidden from view, and it's complicated to opt out. Many consumers aren't aware of ACR, let alone that it's active on their shiny new TVs. If that's you, and you'd like to turn it off, The Markup is going to show you how.
First, a quick primer on the tech: ACR identifies what's displayed on your television, including content served through a cable TV box, streaming service, or game console, by continuously grabbing screenshots and comparing them to a massive database of media and advertisements. Think of it as a Shazam-like service constantly running in the background while your TV is on.
These TVs can capture and identify 7,200 images per hour, or approximately two every second. The data is then used for content recommendations and ad targeting, which is a huge business; advertisers spent an estimated $18.6 billion on smart TV ads in 2022, according to market research firm eMarketer.
For anyone who'd rather not have ACR looking over their shoulder while they watch, we've put together a guide to turning it off on three of the most popular smart TV software platforms in use last year. Depending on the platform, turning off ACR took us between 10 and 37 clicks.
Roku OS is the most popular smart TV operating system in the US, running on the company's streaming media devices and TVs, as well as some TCL, Hisense, Philips, and Sharp televisions. It took 11 to 24 clicks to turn off Roku's ACR system, called "Smart TV Experience," which is only bundled with TVs and not Roku streaming sticks. Roku offers users the ability to turn off targeted advertising and opt out of third-party data sharing through an online account, but turning off ACR is available only on the TV set itself.
How to Turn Off Roku's "Smart TV Experience"
Users can also opt out of seeing personalized ads from their Roku home screen. The same number of ads will still appear but will not be based on user data.
BONUS: Opt out online through your Roku account
Roku provides a relatively easy process to manage privacy settings online. The online privacy hub does not include an opt-out for ACR but does include options to limit the use, sharing, and sale of your personal information.
Samsung is the most popular TV manufacturer in the world. It took 10 to 37 clicks to turn off ACR, which Samsung calls "Viewing information services." If you've connected your television to a Samsung account, you can opt out of ACR and other ad targeting online as well.
How to Turn Off Samsung's "Viewing Information Services"
BONUS: Opt out online through your Samsung account
If your TV is connected to a Samsung account, you can opt out of both ACR and personalized ads online.
The option to opt out of third-party data sharing or sales is accessed through a separate webpage from the privacy hub and requires you to input your state and zip code.
LG requires users to accept all the user agreements and terms of service to use any of the television's smart features. This includes agreements for viewing information, voice assistants, and cross-device advertising.
LG calls its ACR-powered content recommendation system "Live Plus." It took 27 clicks to turn off "Live Plus." LG does not offer a way to limit ACR and other tracking through an online account.
How to Turn Off LG's "Live Plus"
Users can also opt out of ad targeting, limit ad tracking, and third-party data sharing.
The Additional Settings menu includes a Home Settings menu where users can turn off banner ads and content recommendations:
The Additional Settings menu includes an Advertisement settings menu where users can limit ad tracking:
The Support menu includes an Advertisement settings menu where users can limit the sharing or sale of data to third parties:
LG does not offer a way to opt out of ACR or ad targeting on its website. Opting out of third-party data sharing is more difficult to do online than on your TV, requiring you to find and submit your model's TV operating system and unique hardware identifier.
If you recently purchased a new smart TV with ACR that is not on this list, The Markup is interested in learning more about readers' experiences with privacy and advertising on smart TVs.