Reducing Streaming Services’ Tracking
Guest blog post by our moderator Uncover
Streaming services. Many of us love them, though sometimes we get frustrated with them (I’m looking at you, Hulu ads). Regardless of your personal feelings towards a specific platform, they have became a staple in many of our daily lives. For all the laughter and joy we get from them, the tracking and data collection – while varied – can create a accurate portrayal of a consumer’s likes and dislikes. With that in mind, here are some easy “in-house” methods on each of the top 10 platforms (by subscriber count) to somewhat limit the amount of tracking that takes place. All of these instructions are done from a desktop web browser, as this typically gives you the most control over your account settings.
I consider Netflix to be one of the more mild streaming services in terms of the amount of collected data. Unfortunately there’s no real ability to opt out of data collection, but you can remove your viewing history, which will also prevent the algorithms from learning. You’ll have to repeat this process periodically, you cannot tell Netflix not to save your viewing history.
- Visit Netflix.com and sign in to your account
- Choose your profile, hover over the profile icon in the upper-right corner, and scroll down to Account.
- Scroll down to Profile and Parental Controls, and click your profile picture.
- Click Viewing Activity.
- 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.
- Repeat the process for each profile on your account.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon tracks all your activity by default (on any and all platforms they can get their hands on). It saves all searches, things viewed recently, shows and movies watched, and categories you looked through. In my opinion they are one of the worst for tracking (here and everywhere else they can). 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 help limit Amazon from tracking your browsing activity:
- Visit PrimeVideo.com and sign into your account.
- Hover over Accounts & Lists in the top right corner and select Browsing History from the menu.
- Click the Manage history drop-down arrow.
- Toggle Turn Browsing History on/off to the Off position.
You can also disable personalized ads to stop your data from being used for advertising.
- Hover over Accounts & Lists and click Account.
- Under Communication and content, click on Advertising preferences.
- Choose Do not show me interest-based ads provided by Amazon and click Submit.
Crunchyroll is a bit of niche streaming service focusing exclusively on anime, but according to our source this freemium service ranks #3 in terms of subscriber numbers.
- Go to Crunchryoll.com and log in.
- Once signed in, you may be on the video-watching platform, which has limited options. If so, navigate to crunchyroll.com/editprofile/?tab=basic.
- Empty out your profile of as much information as possible, or – if that’s not an option – fill it with false information.
- Under Privacy Settings, toggle Online Status to Offline and check Achievement Privacy so that Achievements are private and visible only to you.
- Under Social Integrations, I recommend unlinking your Twitter if is already linked.
- Check My Devices and ensure there are no old or unfamiliar devices authorized. If you do not recognize any of the devices, deactivate them.
Ah Hulu, the wannabe underdog of streaming. The service that will always be in the “friend zone” of streaming giants. Out of the box it collects quite a bit of data but gives some options to disable some of the data collection.
- Visit Hulu.com and sign into your account.
- Hover over your profile picture in the top right corner and select Account.
- On the right side, under Privacy And Settings, select Manage Nielsen Measurement and click OPT OUT.
- Next, select California Privacy Rights.
- Under Manage Activity, click Watch History and Clear Selected. Like Netflix, this will affect your algorithm but you will regain some privacy.
- On the same page, under Right to Opt Out, click Change Status.
- Click OPT OUT.
AppleTV is another relatively-privacy-friendly option. While Apple does collect some data, they get a lot of points from most experts because they don’t use that data to create advertising profiles or sell ad space. However, as privacy advocates, we’re typically not fans of any unnecessary data collection at all, and in that sense Apple does collect more data than they probably need.
- Log in to tv.apple.com.
- Click on your profile picture in the top right corner and select Settings.
- Under Account Access select Sign Out of All Browser.
- Under Play History select Clear Play History. This will likely remove your algorithmic recommendations, just as with Hulu and Netflix.
You can ask Apple more questions about your data here.
Honorable Mention: YouTube
While not a “streaming service” in the same sense as the above services, YouTube remains one of the most popular platforms for content on the planet. YouTube is owned by Google (yuck), who uses your search history, browser history (if you use Chrome), and more to build a detailed ad profile about you. This personalizes the ads, recommendations, and even search results you see. With Google having one of the furthest reaching hands in the internet, they are able to pull your info from all over the web and your viewing data is just one more juicy morsel to them. If you want to help clear out what YouTube knows about you, you have to visit your Google Account.
First lets check the search and activity page
- Log in at myactivity.google.com.
- You will see check marks next to Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History. Click each one to change your settings. You can toggle each of them off to stop Google from tracking you.
- 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 (I highly recommend the longest option available). Then click Delete to confirm your changes.
Next, lets turn off personalized ads. This is how Google serves you ads based on your activity and history.
- On the menu on the left, click Google Account then select Privacy & personalization.
- Scroll down until you see Ad settings.
- Select Ad personalization and turn it off.
You may have noticed that we said “top 10 streaming services” at the beginning, but didn’t list 10. That’s because five of them – Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max, Discovery+, and ESPN+ – didn’t offer any privacy settings whatsoever except one. All of these services offered a “Do not sell my data” option that was relatively obscured. A few other services did, too. Here, we’ve included a direct link to this option for each service, including any additional advertising opt-out links.
Crunchyroll Interest-based advertising Disney+ Interest-based advertising (Requires 3rd Party Cookies) Peacock HBO Max Discovery+ Interest-based advertising ESPN+ Nielsen Measurements Interest-based Advertising
These are “big dogs” of the streaming entertainment scene. Use this knowledge and apply it to other streaming services you use that we haven’t listed. Your mileage may vary or may have no success at all (some sites don’t offer any clear options).
As a final note, here's a few universal tips for protecting your privacy while streaming regardless of the service.. First is watching in a browser on your computer whenever possible. When you’re on a “desktop” environment, you use firewalls, ad blockers (like uBlock Origin) and other browser hardening tricks to take it a step further. This is especially useful for the services that don’t offer any privacy controls. (Editor’s note: uBlock Origin blocks Hulu ads. 10/10 recommend.)
The next tip is to set your browser to clear all cookies on exit. This will sign you out of everything, which some people may find incredibly inconvenient. You can allowlist (or whitelist) certain sites to keep their cookies, but this may defeat the purpose from a tracking perspective so I recommend clearing all cookies if you’re willing to put up with the mild inconvenience of signing back in each day. Even if you do allowlist certain sites, that's still an improvement though, so definitely look into this option on your browser.
A final more advanced tip is to use a VPN. Not all VPNs work with streaming services. ProtonVPN, one of the few we recommend, proudly advertises that they are streaming-service friendly, and their DNS comes with an ad, tracker, and malware blocker that will help reduce (but not eliminate) more ads and tracking from each of these services. (Here’s an affiliate link if you want to get ProtonVPN and support us at the same time, but don't feel obligated.) You can also add this to your router (if your router supports VPNs) to protect all the devices on your network, like Smart TVs and game consoles.
I hope this was helpful and can provide some insight in an area not typically discussed in the privacy/security community. Stay private and stay safe.
(Proofreading and additions added by Nate B)