Watching you watch: The tracking ecosystem of over-the-top TV streaming devices

Hooman Mohajeri Moghaddam, Gunes Acar, Ben Burgess, Arunesh Mathur, Danny Yuxing Huang, Nicholas G. Feamster, Edward W. Felten, Prateek Mittal, Arvind Narayanan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

The number of Internet-connected TV devices has grown significantly in recent years, especially Over-the-Top (“OTT”) streaming devices, such as Roku TV and Amazon Fire TV. OTT devices offer an alternative to multi-channel television subscription services, and are often monetized through behavioral advertising. To shed light on the privacy practices of such platforms, we developed a system that can automatically download OTT apps (also known as channels), and interact with them while intercepting the network traffic and performing best-effort TLS interception. We used this smart crawler to visit more than 2,000 channels on two popular OTT platforms, namely Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Our results show that tracking is pervasive on both OTT platforms, with traffic to known trackers present on 69% of Roku channels and 89% of Amazon Fire TV channels. We also discover widespread practice of collecting and transmitting unique identifiers, such as device IDs, serial numbers, WiFi MAC addresses and SSIDs, at times over unencrypted connections. Finally, we show that the countermeasures available on these devices, such as limiting ad tracking options and adblocking, are practically ineffective. Based on our findings, we make recommendations for researchers, regulators, policy makers, and platform/app developers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCCS 2019 - Proceedings of the 2019 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Pages131-147
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781450367479
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 6 2019
Event26th ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2019 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: Nov 11 2019Nov 15 2019

Publication series

NameProceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
ISSN (Print)1543-7221

Conference

Conference26th ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2019
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityLondon
Period11/11/1911/15/19

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications

Keywords

  • Automation
  • Internet TV
  • Measurement
  • OTT
  • Privacy
  • Third-party tracking

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  • Cite this

    Moghaddam, H. M., Acar, G., Burgess, B., Mathur, A., Huang, D. Y., Feamster, N. G., Felten, E. W., Mittal, P., & Narayanan, A. (2019). Watching you watch: The tracking ecosystem of over-the-top TV streaming devices. In CCS 2019 - Proceedings of the 2019 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (pp. 131-147). (Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security). Association for Computing Machinery. https://doi.org/10.1145/3319535.3354198