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Roku TVs will eavesdrop on your shows to serve up ads

Wherein 'enhance your TV experience' means 'sell your data to advertisers.'
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Bloomberg via Getty Images

Roku fans have another treat this week aside from getting Sling TV's Cloud DVR functionality. Assuming you opt in, the latest software version (7.6) will use Automatic Content Recognition to listen to what broadcast programming you're watching and suggest other stuff to watch based on that, as a way to "enhance" your couch potato session. "Additional viewing options may include the ability to watch from the beginning, watch more episodes of the same show and/or view suggestions for similar entertainment available to stream," the section about Roku TVs reads.

The way Roku describes it sounds pretty innocent until you look further and discover that while you can disable the function if you aren't cool with it, "viewing information collected prior to the feature being turned off" won't be purged. So, like pretty much every online-based service, any data collected during the time period is Roku's property and could be sold to the highest bidder at the drop of a hat. The Roku privacy policy regarding ACR use is as follows:

"If you choose to enable a feature called "More Ways to Watch" on your Roku TV, then in addition to the viewing information and other information that Roku collects from your Roku TV as described elsewhere in this policy, Roku may also collect viewing information using ACR. If "More Ways to Watch" is enabled, Roku uses ACR to help Roku identify the networks, channels, and programs you watch and when you watch them via your Roku TV's antenna or devices connected to your Roku TV's input ports, including over-the-air broadcasts and cable set-top boxes. Based on this information, we may recommend personalized content, serve personalized ads to you and measure viewership of ads and programming.

We may supplement this viewing history with other demographic data we learn about you. We may also share viewing data derived from ACR with third parties such as measurement providers in an aggregate manner or in ways that do not personally identify you directly."

TechCrunch reports that this data collection only happens during use, and since ACR isn't a microphone, it won't be listening when your set is powered off. And again, the only way any of this works is if you opt in. If you'd rather it not happen, it's as simple as not agreeing to it when prompted. Vizio, on the other hand, recently came under fire for making its data collection opt-out, versus opt-in.

Aside from that, the rest of the patch notes sound fairly standard. Now there's a favorite channels list and custom input naming (so you don't have to remember what's plugged into HDMI 3). We've reached out to Roku for additional information beyond what's in the privacy policy.

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