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Privacy

The privacy secret the streaming services don’t want you to know

How much time do you spend binging your favorite shows on streaming services? If you don’t know, check with Netflix, Hulu or Roku — because these companies certainly do.

Streaming services collect user data the same way social media companies do. But unlike social media companies, streaming services have in-depth knowledge about your tastes and viewing habits. Tap or click here to see how long it takes to binge-watch the most popular shows on streaming.

Every streaming service collects data on you in one form or another — but you don’t have to keep it that way. If you want a more private and personal streaming experience, keep reading for the settings you need to change.

Start with your TV

If you have a smart TV, know this: It’s watching what you do and can tell companies far more about you than you probably realize. Your viewing history, the ads you watch or skip and other details are collected and shared with advertisers.

If you are using a streaming stick or device with your TV or watching Netflix, Hulu or any of the others on your television, your first step is shutting down tracking at the device level.

Tap or click here for steps to do that on a Vizio, Samsung, LG, Amazon Fire TV, Roku TV and more.

Netflix

Netflix collects a large amount of data from users — and most of it goes towards content recommendations. In other words, what you watch determines the stuff that Netflix shows you while you browse.

For a more private Netflix experience, you need to regularly clear out your viewing history. Netflix, thankfully, makes the process quite easy:

  1. Visit Netflix.com and sign in to your account.
  2. Choose your profile and click on the profile icon in the upper-right corner once you reach the main menu.
  3. Click Account, then scroll down to Profile and Parental Controls.
  4. Click your account icon. Then, click Viewing Activity.
  5. On the menu that opens, click the circle icon on the right of each entry to remove it from your watch history. To remove your entire watch history, scroll down and click hide all.
  6. Repeat the process for each profile on your account.

Doing this will clear out the watch data Netflix has gathered on you, but keep in mind that it will affect your recommendations. The shows Netflix suggests will be less tailored to your interests — but it won’t affect your viewing experience going further.

To keep your account as private as possible, clear out your data every few weeks or so.

Speaking of data, you can also ask Netflix for a copy of data it collects about you. This includes more than just your watch history and ratings for content — because Netflix hangs on to your device information, account email preferences, IP address, billing information and data from other profiles on your account.

To request a copy:

Go to netflix.com/account/getmyinfo and follow the instructions. It can take up to 30 days for Netflix to process the request, and once it’s ready, your data file will be sent to the email address attached to your account.

Hulu

Unlike Netflix, Hulu lets you disable quite a bit more of its data collection. It may collect more data about you upfront and share it with partners, but you can easily disable tracking with a few menu options.

Here’s how to remove your watch history from Hulu:

To clear and reset all Watch History for all profiles associated with your account:

  1. Log in to Hulu and open your Account page on a web browser.
  2. Select California Privacy Rights under Privacy and Settings. (Note: Hulu is based in California and follows the state’s regulations.)
  3. Under Manage Activity, click Watch History and Clear Selected.

This will clear the entire watch history that Hulu stores for you. Next, let’s take care of Hulu’s Nielsen Measurement, which collects viewership data that determines ratings for TV and streaming.

  1. Log in to Hulu and open your Account page on a web browser.
  2. Select Manage Neilsen Measurement under Privacy and Settings.
  3. Click Opt-out.

Finally, let’s stop Hulu from selling your data to advertisers. Thanks to privacy regulations coming from the state of California (where Hulu is headquartered), you can now opt out of having your personal information and activity data sold.

  1. Log in to Hulu and open your Account page on a web browser.
  2. Select California Privacy Rights under Privacy and Settings.
  3. Under Right to Opt Out, click Change Status.
  4. Click Opt out.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon tracks all your activity — including your Prime Video history — by default. It saves all of your searches, items you recently viewed, shows and movies you recently watched and product categories you looked through.

This data helps Amazon create targeted ads. That’s why you’ll see products and suggestions similar to what you’ve watched or looked up. Here’s how to stop Amazon from tracking your browsing activity:

  1. Log in to your account at Amazon.com.
  2. Click on Browsing History from the menu under the Amazon search bar.
  3. On the page that opens, click on the Manage history drop-down arrow.
  4. Toggle Turn Browsing History on/off to the Off position.

You can also turn disable personalized ads to stop your data from being used for advertising.

  1. Hover over Accounts & Lists and click Your Account.
  2. Under Communication and content, click on Advertising preferences.
  3. Choose Do not show me interest-based ads provided by Amazon.
  4. Click Submit.

Amazon Fire TV

If you watch Prime Video on a Fire TV Stick or Cube, there’s one more step you need to take to stop Amazon from tracking you. The Fire TV’s privacy menu gives you the option to limit device data collection, app data collection and interest-based ads.

  1. From the Fire TV main menu, select Settings.
  2. Click Preferences, followed by Privacy Settings.
  3. In the menu that opens, turn Device Usage Data, Collect App Data Usage and Interest-based Ads off.

You can also disable Data Monitoring, which sends Amazon additional usage stats about your device:

  1. From the Fire TV main menu, select Settings.
  2. Click Preferences, followed by Data Monitoring.
  3. In the menu that opens, turn Data Monitoring off.

YouTube

YouTube is owned by Google — which uses your search history to build a detailed ad profile about you. This personalizes ads and recommendations you see, and the data happens to be extremely valuable to advertisers. Tap or click here to see how much money your data sells for online.

If you want to clear out what YouTube knows about you, you have to tackle your Google profile. It all trickles down from there.

To get started, let’s tackle our search and activity history:

  1. Visit myaccount.google.com and log in. Then, click on Manage your Google Account.
  2. Click Manage your data & personalization, found under Privacy & Personalization.
  3. Under the Activity controls menu, you will see checkmarks next to Web & App activity trackingLocation History and YouTube History. Click each one to change your settings. You can toggle each of them off to stop Google from tracking you.
  4. Under Activity controls, click My Activity under Activity and timeline.
  5. On the menu that appears in the left sidebar, click on Delete activity by. Choose how far back you would like to delete your history in the pop-up menu. Then click Delete to confirm your changes.

Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll have removed your search history and disabled tracking through apps, location history and YouTube activity.

Next, lets turn off personalized ads. This is how Google serves you ads based on your activity and history.

Here’s how to turn off ad personalization:

  1. Visit your Google Account settings once again and click on Data & personalization from the left-hand panel.
  2. From the Ad personalization panel, click on Go to ad settings.
  3. Toggle the switch next to Ad personalization is ON. You should now see Ad personalization is OFF.

You can also turn off ad personalization for Google Chrome by installing Google’s Interest-Based Ads Opt-Out extension. This will affect personalized YouTube ads as well.

Keep in mind: You may still see targeted ads based on your location or the website you’re browsing.

Tap or click here to see how to limit your phone’s location tracking settings.

Roku

Roku is less of a service and more of a hub for many other streaming platforms. But Roku still keeps tabs on your data and sells it to advertisers — unless you personally opt-out of ad tracking.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. From the Roku main menu, open Settings.
  2. Open Privacy, followed by Advertising.
  3. Check Limit ad tracking to stop Roku from sharing your viewing data.

It might seem surprising how much data your streaming services collect on you, but nearly every website nowadays is just as greedy. If anything, social media sites are even worse — and data stored there is even more personal. Just make sure to be careful what you’re willing to share online in the future.

Tap or click here to see how to make all your social media accounts private.

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