Your favourite streaming service isn’t as safe as you’d think

Privacy practices among streaming platforms are poor, find Common Sense Media.

They’re used by hundreds of millions of us worldwide for entertainment, and their use during the pandemic skyrocketed as we sought out entertainment to divert us from the crushing reality of life. But while some of the world’s biggest streaming video platforms rate highly for their entertainment value, their ability to maintain privacy and security leave a little more to be desired.

Those are the findings of a new report by lobby group Common Sense Media, which finds that out of the 10 biggest video streaming services, only one earned a pass rating for using privacy practices that protected every one of its users. Apple TV+ was the sole service to limp over the low barrier, although YouTube TV received the highest overall score from the reviewers.

One of the world’s most popular streaming services was also the one that scored the lowest on Common Sense Media’s rating system – getting just 46% out of a possible 100%.

Netflix has won awards for its original content, and has a deep library of shows and movies that capture the public imagination and become the closest thing to digital watercooler chat. But its scores on data safety and parental consent in particular were “poor”.

Data selling takes place

One of the things that marked Netflix down was not that it sold users’ data (it says it doesn’t), but its admission that it targets users with advertisements and tracks them as they use other apps and services online. Hulu, the next worst streaming service surveyed, does sell users’ data according to its privacy policy.

It’s one of many in the top 10 that do: alongside Hulu, Discovery+, Peacock, HBO Max, Paramount+ and Disney+ all say they sell user data to third parties, double-dipping on the potential profits to be made from each user who already pays for a subscription to the service.

That finding may be shocking to those who fork out their payments every month. “Many viewers know that free streaming apps are most likely selling their personal information, but most viewers may not know that most paid subscription streaming apps are also selling users' data,” the report explains.

Tracking you off the platform

One of the major things that Common Sense Media marked down apps on after analysing their privacy policies was that they track users away from the services themselves. Wherever you go on the internet, nine out of the 10 top streaming services are watching you and collecting data on you to build up their knowledge of your profile.

Only Apple TV+ isn’t collecting your data outside of the service, says the report.

Another issue Common Sense Media raised was around how children’s profiles are handled and dealt with through the services. “The companies behind streaming apps must do more to protect kids' privacy, from providing stronger parental controls to establishing specific policies for kids,” Common Sense Media says. “But our findings also serve as a reminder to parents to make smart choices around the apps they allow their kids to use and how to better protect their privacy while streaming.”

The research company also analysed five popular devices, including Apple TV, Google TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Nvidia Shield TV. Just as is the case with the streaming services, Apple TV ranked highest for safety and adherence to best practices, earning a pass mark. Google TV technically scored higher than Apple’s offering – 81% versus 79% - but came second because despite its more transparent privacy policy, the things it actually did with data were less appropriate in Common Sense Media’s eyes.

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