Study Reveals Smart Gadgets Share Data Unexpectedly

John Lister's picture

Researchers have discovered that many smart gadgets (such as smart TVs and streaming sticks) send data to tech companies, even when idle. The purpose of the experiment was to determine if devices were being used to monitor users, or could potentially leak data about the user to a third party.

The research was a joint project between Northeastern University and the UK's Imperial College London. They examined 81 devices under the broad category of the Internet of Things (IoT). The study included security cameras, home automation devices such as WiFi plugs, Smart TV sets, smart speakers and home appliance such as kettles and washing machines with a remote control feature.

The researchers spent time both actively using the devices and leaving them switched on, but unused. They then analyzed all Internet traffic to and from the devices.

Tech Giants Access Data

As well as contacting manufacturers and service providers, devices contacted companies such as Netflix, Kingsoft (a Chinese software company), 21Vianet (a Chinese Internet provider), AT&T and Alibaba (a Chinese online retailer).

The researchers also spotted multiple communications to Amazon, Google and "content delivery network" (CDN) Akamai on devices with no obvious connection. However, the connections may have simply involved handling data transmission and processing for service providers. (Source:

The testing took place in both the US and UK. The researchers found US devices tended to have more unexpected contacts than those in the UK. While there's no clear reason for this, researchers speculated that differing privacy regulations could be the explanation.

Netflix Gets Data Despite No Account

Perhaps the most notable pattern was that "Nearly all TV devices ... [contacted] Netflix, even though we never configured any TV with a Netflix account." (Source:

As the data traffic was often encrypted, the researchers can't be certain what information was actually sent to the third parties. However, they noted some potential conflicts of interest. For example, in its role as a data transmitter and processor, Amazon could get details of which devices are in a home and - based on the pattern of data transmission - how often they are used. That's something that would obviously be of interest to Amazon in its role as a retailer.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised that data is shared this way on such a scale? Should smart device manufacturers tell users exactly what data is collected and where it goes? Is this just the price of having 'smart' features in appliances?

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beach.boui's picture

I always suspected this. But, it is still a bit shocking to know it as fact. It makes me feel violated, that this happens so transparently and no one knows that its happening. It should be illegal and these companies should pay for their sins.

DavidInMississippi's picture

THIS is the main reason I absolutely refuse to bring "smart" devices into my home. Unfortunately, I do have a streaming device for my TV, but refused to get one with voice control. The only other device is my cell phone, which I wish I could turn totally off when I'm not using it.

This is a blatant and gross violation of privacy, and if the government did this, the media would be all over them. Why does media ignore this for corporate entities?

matt_2058's picture

Vizio was doing this data collection over 2 yrs ago. And they confirmed sharing the data with analytics companies, media companies and advertisers. Vizio even has a page describing how to turn it off, since the default setting sent them data.


I guess consumers just need to be aware of what is going on. The only entity capable of protecting the people is the Government, and it isn't doing much.

Technology is amazing and has enabled progress and allowed us to expand our knowledge.

It's not surprising that some business person has turned it into a way to be a middleman and make money off someone else.