Privacy on Streaming Boxes and "Smart TV"

I am starting this topic expecting to create some discussion that goes beyond the “Don’t connect your TV to the internet”, “Just connect it to your laptop” and “Some linux box with Kodi/Jellyfin”

Of course, you could do that and be happy with it. But some people may just need something to watch Netflix easier without having bigtech spying on them and those solutions are not friendly for non-tech savvy people or convenient.

So what are the other choices?

From my re-search the most recommended middle ground is AppleTV but that has a few cons:

  • Price is high
  • Limited support from VPNs (You may have to add the VPN to the router in many cases)
  • Lack of alternative frontends for some apps like on Android (example SmartTubeNext)

On the Android Side, I don’t think things like Roku, FireStick, and so on, are better than the default OS that comes with the TV (Someone may correct me on that). But here some interesting possibilities that come from the more Open Android Boxes.

First you could flash LineageOS on some of them, and there is not a lot to gain from doing so privacy wise IMO aside of removing the manufacture’s bloatware (and losing Netflix in the process). But there is an security benefit from having a newer version of Android.

A second option that may seems more reasonable depending of the use case, its to root it and debloat it/add a DNS blocker to it. There are some guides about that on the internet but usually aim to blocking ads not improving privacy.

This could be something to look at in the future: https://plasma-bigscreen.org/

What do you think? Does this matter to you? What are you using for streaming right now?

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I’m personally very interested in where this goes because my household has a smart TV and the partner and kids insist on using it. Ive disabled the telemetry and reset the advertising ID every few days but that’s the most I can do. I’d say that something like a Roku may be partially better then some smart TVs OS since there is a little more control and I feel like the default OS would be more likely to gobble up as much data as possible. I’d also recommended against rooting anything, from my understanding rooting instantly ruins any security an OS can have. Behind the few changes I made at the beginning I don’t know much else you can do privacy wise. Hope this helps!

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To be honest, I’ve mostly given up on having a device for streaming that can be private.

I have a shield TV that I block access to the internet with my network firewall and get everything I want to watch via usenet to be played with jellyfin on the shield. I specifically use the shield because it’s one of the few devices capable of playing HDR and Dolby Vision content.

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Some smart TV have built in camera and microphone and WiFi and will try to claw its way into a WiFi just to send its telemetry.

Over where I am, they are selling digital TV boxes that could be plugged into older CRT TVs with built in cellular phones that can bypass WiFi alltogether. Yikes.

Overall the best way forward is to look for Samsung or LG “digital display signage” and plug something like a raspberry pi next to it or something.

Do you have a source for this? I always heard it come up, but never seen someone bring up any specific models that do it and whatnot.

Isn’t that just regular cable? :grin:

RPIs are not even on stock and won’t be for a while. But the major issue with that type of solution is that it will stop working the moment you live with someone else who just want to stream something on the TV without haste, all methods like that imply giving up streaming and rely on physical media to rip blue-rays, or you know, the high seas.

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This is the only thing I’ve ever seen about something like that. I too have seen it repeated all over.

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I have just installed a raspberry pi with AdGuardHome and it denies access to many trash sites as Google or YouTube. That is an effective solution although I think I am still being spied to a certain extent.

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install an pihole then filter the dns requests

Tried that and something my ISP does doesn’t allow it to work it just makes my device(s) lose internet service and nothing works

It’s quite a problem I have to agree. I personally have been using Chromecasts quite a while. They run behind a VPN and DNS is proxied indeed also through Adguard Home. For this last part you will need to reroute the Google DNS IP’s to Adguard Home but then it is possible to control the telemetry somewhat.

If I would be buying new equipment today I would probably also go for the Apple TV. It can run independently and atm has less ads. I am worried for the future however. Unfortunately after a long search I have come to conclude no really good alternative exists.

I have also heard that LG’s TVOS can be okay although it recently has gotten more and more polluted.

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Questions, what do you use to make the UI “TV friendly”? Also, what do you use as a remote?

I just have the native UI and remote … Or I didn’t catch the question.

They are referring to someone saying using a raspberry pi

I use the Pi as a DNS (domain name system). So when the TV looks for an internet address, it asks the Pi. On the Pi is an address blocklist. If the requested address is on the blocklist, the Pi gives no answer. If it is not in the blocklist, it gives the responding IP (xx.xx.xx.xx). All that is done without changing the software of the TV in any way. It just cannot reach google.com or youtube.com or whatever trash addresses.

My bad - I thought you were saying you use the PI on the TV itself.