December 5, 2023

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

There is a phrase about the practices of stealing personal information from free digital services that sell ads, including Facebook and weather apps: if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product.

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

Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit advocacy group for children and families, released a report this week that found that most of the popular streaming services and TV streaming gadgets in the U.S. like Netflix, Roku, and Disney + met the minimum requirements of the Group does not comply with privacy and security practices. The only exception was Apple.

We got used to the corporate arms race to keep track of every click of our mouse and every credit card swipe. However, the group’s report is surprising that streaming entertainment products that people pay for out of their pockets share some of the same data habits as sites like Facebook and Google that make their living renting our data for advertising dollars.

“This should be a wake-up call for the streaming platforms,” ​​said James P. Steyer, managing director of Common Sense Media. “These platforms can and should do better, and I think they will.”

The organization said streaming companies could do more to keep the data they collect from American households to themselves, create exemptions from their information practices to better protect children, and provide more assurance that the data is Not used by people to scam customers advertising across the Internet or fed into dossiers created by data brokers.

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

Common Sense Media found that in its analysis, most companies could use information about what people are doing in their services to tailor or allow other companies to target advertisements to customers across the Internet. For example, it was found that many of the streaming companies were forwarding data to Amazon and Google’s advertising companies.

Some streaming companies, including Netflix, say they usually don’t allow other companies to see what we see in a Friday night binge session. Some others in the analysis leave open the possibility that information about what we see could be used for targeted advertising or other purposes.

Streaming company data could also end up with companies that compile tons of information, such as: B. What brand of toothpaste you buy in the store and what you do on your phone. And Common Sense Media said some efforts to give informed consent to customers were too complicated. For example, the organization said Amazon asked people on a Fire streaming gadget to click through 25 guidelines to use the device, plus two more to use its voice assistant Alexa.

The organization said that Apple, extolling its consumer protection principles but not always living up to its stated ideals, offers stronger protection in its Apple TV + streaming video service and TV connection gadget called Apple TV than the others studied.

(Apple is helping to fund a Common Sense Media news literacy program for schools and is one of the companies that license the organization’s ratings and reviews. Common Sense Media advised me that this does not affect its privacy ratings.)

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

The problem Common Sense Media has pointed out is that, with a few exceptions, Americans simply have no way of knowing what companies are doing with all of the information they are gathering about us. Most of the time, we have to rely on legal documents that give an illusion of control and think through the hypothetical risks of what could go wrong with our personal information in the wild.

That condition has added to Americans’ distrust of tech companies and concerns about what happens to our personal information, but Steyer said our collective fear has a silver lining: Corporations and politicians know that more Americans care about privacy .

“I am incredibly excited about the fundamental change in public perception and awareness that will drive both political and industry change,” said Steyer. “The tide is turning.”

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  • The stigma of Theranos: My colleague Erin Griffith writes that some start-up founders – especially those in the life sciences, biotechnology and healthcare sectors – have to fight settlements with Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood testing start-up Theranos was shut down in 2018 after a reporter investigation questioned became their claims about the company. Holmes will soon be tried on fraud charges.

  • Productive and respectful conversations! On Facebook! The Washington Post writes about a Facebook group called Vaccine Talk, which has 70,000 members and is a forum for civil and evidence-based discussions about vaccines. The group has 25 moderators and administrators who monitor posts and have strict rules against medical advice or scientific claims with no evidence.

  • It’s hard to be green in consumer electronics: In two articles, Protocol examines why manufacturers of smartphones, televisions and other electronics find it difficult to make their products more environmentally friendly. This can require drastic changes in manufacturing and buyer expectations to drive businesses and people to use more expensive, longer-lasting equipment.

Check out this llama walking on a beach in the Bay Area. The dogs seem confused about their unknown new friend named Chubby.

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