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Google came up with a new way to protect your privacy on smart TVs

Updated Feb 25th, 2021 7:52AM EST
Google TV
Image: Kyodo/Newscom/The Mega Agency

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  • The upcoming Smart TVs that will ship with Google TV software on board will let users set them up as dumb “Basic TVs.”
  • Google built the new Basic TV feature into the Google TV setup for the upcoming products that integrate its Google TV software, not set-top boxes like the latest Chromecast model.
  • The feature can prevent a Smart TV from collecting data associated with TV content consumption.

Google will probably not be the first company you’d think of when it comes to user privacy, as the online search giant has had to deal with its fair share of privacy mishaps over the years. But Google has been trying to keep up with Apple’s privacy features and offer users better protections in recent years. That’s all the more difficult to do for a company that makes more money if it can sell better-targeted ads. Yet Google has also improved the privacy protections built into Android years and made it easier for users to somewhat manage the kind of data Google collects and stores about them.

While Google might not be ready to match Apple’s stricter privacy protection when it comes to mobile devices, the company does have an exciting new privacy feature that targets TVs. Specifically, Google has developed a software feature that allows devices to dumb down the Smart TV they’re connected to. How does that help with privacy? Smart TVs also collect plenty of user data about everything you watch.

Google TV will let users set up their Smart TVs as “Basic TVs” that remove the device’s operating system and apps. 9to5Google discovered the feature that will work on new TVs that ship with Google TV, rather than set-top boxes that run Google TV like the latest Chromecast model. There is an apps-only mode on Chromecast with Google TV, but the new Basic TV goes beyond that.

Google TV Setup
TV sets with Google TV preloaded will offer two setup choices. Image source: Google via 9to5Google

During setup, Google will let you choose between Google TV and Basic TV. The latter removes apps, content recommendations, and Google Assistant, leaving only the Live TV and external inputs intact. The Basic TV experience will still let you stream content from your favorite services, including set-top boxes that might be connected to your Smart TV. Only the Smart TV will lose all its smart features, including the ones that come from Google.

Users can revert to Google TV at any point later, but the process requires a full reset. Google will still feature Google TV prominently on the screen when in Basic TV mode, according to the screenshots that 9to5Google shared. But the user interface has not been finalized.

Google TV Setup
“Basic TV” removes all the smart features built into Google TV. Image source: Google via 9to5Google

Google confirmed to 9to5Google that the feature is not tied to Android 12 and will roll out via TVs that are sold with Google TV software preloaded.

A different reason to choose Basic TV over Google TV has to do with performance. If the Smart TV software experience or performance isn’t acceptable, there’s always the option of going Basic TV, and streaming content from smart set-top boxes or sticks plugged directly into the TV.

Google also collects user data from everything you do online, including Google TV activity. But Google TV does include the apps-only mode that will turn off personalized recommendations.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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