Jefferson Graham, USA TODAYPublished 2:17 p.m. ET Feb. 7, 2018 | Updated 2:29 p.m. ET Feb. 7, 2018
LOS ANGELES — Buy a smart TV, and odds are your viewing habits are probably being tracked. That's what Consumer Reports found out after studying the five biggest TV brands.
If you want to keep your binge-watching and late-night surfing private, you can turn off the monitoring — but you'll have to go back into the original setup menus, the one you likely flipped right through in your eagerness to start watching.
TVs from Sony, Samsung, LG, Vizio and TCL, which makes sets branded as "Roku" models featuring a built-in Roku streaming player, were tested by Consumer Reports and most had a feature called Automatic Content Recognition that tracks what shows you're watching.
The consumer benefit in tracking is that ads will be more finely structured to you, similar to online ads. Software companies that are integrated into these smart TVs take the information to suggest other TV shows and movies to viewers, much like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video do, and allow advertisers to make targeted advertisements, similar to what happens when users surf the Web on a computer.
But not everyone will be happy about this tracking. Here's how to turn it off, if you have a smart TV:
In the menu, click to Settings, which brings you to All Settings, and find your way to General. The feature to look for here is LivePlus, which is what LG calls the ACR technology. This is the one you want to turn off.
On newer sets, go for Settings in the menu, then Support, then Terms & Policies. From there, Consumer Reports suggests pulling Viewing Information Services to opt out of. On older models, Consumer Reports says to click on Support and then select Terms & Policy and then SyncPlus and Marketing to turn off ACR.
Consumer Reports notes that ACR is turned on during setup of the TV, via agreements with Sony, which makes the TV; Google, which provides the AndroidTV operating system; and Samba TV, a company that gathers analytics on viewers' habits that advertisers can use for targeted ad campaigns. .
On Sony TVs, you'll have to get go back to the setup, available within Settings, to turn off ACR.
If you want some of the Web connectivity, but not everything, you can agree to Sony and Google policies, and then when you come to Samba TV, opt out of ACR by clicking “disable.”
TCL makes branded Roku TVs with software also used in sets by Hisense, Hitachi, Insignia, Philips, RCA and Sharp.
Turn off ACR by going to Settings, then Privacy, and "Smart TV Experience." Consumer Reports says you can uncheck "Use Information for TV Inputs" to disable ACR.
For Vizio sets, select System, click on Reset & Admin and opt for Viewing Data to opt out of ACR.
Lee Neikirk, who reviews TVs for Reviewed.com, a sister unit of USA TODAY, says manufacturers have to do a better job informing the public about the data being collected from them on smart TVs.
"The integrity move would be a blatant statement right up front when you're setting up the TV, 'this is what we are doing, and this is how to turn it off.' "
The actual act of changing the settings is easy, he adds, but most consumers never bother with fiddling with menu changes.