New Analysis from Common Sense Media Assesses Consumer Privacy Policies and Practices of Top Streaming Apps and Devices

Report reveals the majority of streaming apps and devices are not meeting the minimum level of privacy protections recommended for kids

Common Sense Media
Tuesday, August 24, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO, August 24, 2021 — Nearly all streaming platform providers seem to share viewing habits for advertising purposes extensively, and without giving children's data the protection it requires under the law, according to a new report released today by Common Sense Media. The report entitled "Privacy of Streaming Apps and Devices: Watching TV that Watches Us" evaluated the privacy policies of the top 10 streaming apps and top five streaming devices.

The report analyzes streaming apps Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock, and YouTube TV, as well as streaming devices Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV, Nvidia Shield TV, and Roku Streaming Stick+, and found that among several areas where privacy protections can be improved, the platforms need to be more clear about the use of child profiles and better protect the privacy of children using those profiles.

"The responsibility should be on the platforms to protect their users' privacy, not parents and educators to read lengthy and confusing privacy policies," said Girard Kelly, Senior Counsel & Director, Privacy Program. "One of the best ways for businesses to help alleviate this burden is to make the default settings the highest level of protection possible. Secondly, parents may be misled into thinking that their children's privacy is protected by using child profiles. That is simply not true, and these platforms need to be very clear about how the data from child profiles are collected and used."

In the analysis, Netflix and Apple TV+ represent two opposite ends of the privacy spectrum, with the rest of the apps and devices reviewed ranking somewhere in the middle. Netflix received the lowest overall privacy score (46%) among the streaming apps and a "Warning" label partly because the streaming giant shares its users' data for targeted advertising on third-party apps and services across the internet, and fails to disclose how they protect the privacy of kids on their platform. Apple TV+ is the only streaming app that received a "Pass" rating and one of the highest overall privacy scores (79%). Apple TV+ says it does not sell users' data to third parties, display targeted advertisements, nor track users on other apps and services across the internet.

The collection of behavioral information about viewing habits and interactions with streaming content for advertising and tracking purposes could lead to privacy risks and harms that may affect consumers and their children, as well as students and families. Many streaming apps and devices do not have child-specific privacy policies to clarify whether they use different data collection practices for child accounts, which would need to include stronger privacy protections for children under 13 years of age.

Streaming App Privacy Ratings

The evaluations found that nearly all of the streaming apps, except AppleTV+, have privacy practices that put consumers' privacy at risk. These risks include one or more of selling data, sending third-party marketing communications, displaying targeted advertisements, tracking users across other sites and services, and creating advertising profiles for data brokers.

For a full review of the ratings scale click here.

Amazon Prime Video

  • Rating: 57% Warning
    • Pros: Users can create separate profiles for personalized content recommendations, and parents can create a separate "Kids" profile for children to watch curated kid‐friendly content.
    • Cons: Amazon's policy says it does not sell users' data, but Amazon does say it targets users with advertisements and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Apple TV+

  • Rating: 79% Pass
    • Pros: Apple says they don't sell users' data to third parties, don't display targeted advertisements, and don't track users on other apps and services across the internet.
    • Cons: Apple does not provide any information about how they protect student data privacy if the product is used by students in K–12 schools.

Discovery+

  • Rating: 54% Warning
    • Pros: Discovery+ says in its privacy policy that it is only directed to adults and not intended for children under the age of 13.
    • Cons: The Discovery+ policy says it sells users' data, targets users with advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Disney+

  • Rating: 68% Warning
    • Pros: Disney has some of the best practices in the category of Parental Consent and Data Safety that include safe interactions and privacy.
    • Cons: Disney's policy says it sells users' data, targets users with advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

HBO Max

  • Rating: 63% Warning
    • Pros: Parents can create a separate "Kids" profile for children to watch curated kid‐friendly content without targeted advertisements.
    • Cons: The HBO policy says it sells users' data, targets users with personalized advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Hulu

  • Rating: 53% Warning
    • Pros: Users can create separate profiles for personalized content recommendations, and parents can create a separate "Kids" profile for children to watch curated kid‐friendly content.
    • Cons: Hulu's policy says it sells users' data, targets users with advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Netflix

  • Rating: 46% Warning
    • Pros: Users can create separate profiles for personalized content recommendations, and parents can create a separate "Kids" profile for children to watch curated kid‐friendly content.
    • Cons: Netflix's policy says it does not sell users' data, but Netflix does say it targets users with advertisements and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Paramount+

  • Rating: 65% Warning
    • Pros: Paramount+ says they protect student data privacy if the product is used by students in K–12 schools and districts.
    • Cons: The Paramount+ policy says it sells users' data, targets users with advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and services across the internet.

Peacock

  • Rating: 59% Warning
    • Pros: Peacock says the service is intended for users of all ages, but individuals under the age of 13 may use the service with the consent of a parent or legal guardian.
    • Cons: Peacock's policy says it sells users' data, targets users with advertisements, and tracks users on other apps and across the internet.

Youtube TV

  • Rating: 81% Warning
    • Pros: YouTube TV received the highest overall numerical score, even with an orange "warning" rating, because Google TV had a more transparent policy despite engaging in some worse privacy practices.
    • Cons: YouTube TV says they don't sell users' data to third parties, but they do target users with advertisements and track users on other apps and services across the internet.

Streaming Device Privacy Ratings

Security testing of the top five streaming devices indicates that all streaming devices display either first-party or third-party advertising. Many send third-party marketing communications or requests to third-party ad tracking domains, and most do not provide separate child profiles.

Apple TV

  • Rating: 79% Pass
    • Pros: The Apple TV is the easiest way to experience Apple TV+, and Apple's policy for this product says they do not collect data for any other purpose.
    • Cons: Apple does not provide any information about how they protect student data privacy if the product is used by students in K–12 schools.

Google TV

  • Rating: 81% Warning
    • Pros: The Google TV integrates everything with your Google Account and brings all your streaming services together in one place.
    • Cons: Google says they don't sell users' data to third parties, but they do target users with advertisements and track users on other apps and services across the internet.

Amazon Fire TV

  • Rating: 57% Warning
    • Pros: Amazon's Fire streaming devices give Amazon Prime members a large selection of "included with Prime" TV shows, Amazon originals, and movies without the need to subscribe to other third‐party services.
    • Cons: Amazon's policy says that they target users with advertisements, however, the service does not display interest‐based ads to children when they are using a registered Amazon child profile.

Roku Streaming Stick+

  • Rating: 51% Warning
    • Pros: The Roku Streaming Stick+ allows users to integrate all the free and paid third‐party subscription services they use.
    • Cons: Roku says they sell users' data to third parties, target users with advertisements, and track users on other apps and services across the internet.

Nvidia Shield TV

  • Rating: 43% Warning
    • Pros: By design, the Shield TV works with Android TV and integrates Google Assistant and streaming game services like Geforce Now.
    • Cons: Shield TV has the same privacy practices as Google's Android TV that target users with advertisements and track users on other apps and services across the internet.

About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsensemedia.org.

About Common Sense Privacy Program
The Common Sense Privacy Program evaluates popular applications and services for children, protects child and student privacy, and supports a more secure digital future for kids everywhere. Our evaluations help parents and educators understand the complex policies and terms related to popular tools used in homes and classrooms across the country.

The Common Sense Privacy Program is supported by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation.

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