Why Won’t Roku Talk About Their Privacy Policies?

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UPDATE (November 4, 2017): I ultimately was able to get specific answers from Roku to my questions, via their corporate representatives. The bottom line is that based on that information, I do not consider Roku (or other popular streaming devices) to be suitable for the kind of applications described below, for a variety of reasons. I recommend non-networked, standalone media players (~$30 or less) and an ordinary HDMI cable for these situations.

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Roku makes some excellent, inexpensive video streaming products. I actually have both a Roku Stick and a great Google Chromecast — they each have somewhat different best use cases.

Some days ago the chief security officer at a large firm contacted me with a question about a potential use for Roku units in a corporate environment. They already had Roku boxes or sticks on most of their meeting room monitors, and were concerned about a specific security/privacy issue.

Essentially, they were considering use of the existing Roku units — in conjunction with the Roku Media Player app available to download to those units — to display locally created video assets.

My immediate reaction was to discourage this — much preferring a method that was totally under their control with no chance of leakage outside their own networks — even if that meant direct wiring to the displays. But for a number of reasons he insisted that he wanted to explore the use of Rokus in this application.

Unfortunately, figuring out the privacy and security implications of such a course has so far proven to be nontrivial.

The lengthy online Roku privacy policies page goes into a great deal of detail concerning the information that they collect from your devices — Wi-Fi info, channel data, search data, etc. — all sorts of stuff related to viewing of “conventional” Roku-capable streaming channels.

But the Roku Media Player app is different. It doesn’t play external streams, it play your own video or audio files from your own local server. That Roku privacy page seems to make no specific mention of their Media Player at all.

So I went to the Roku Forum to ask what sorts of data — Usage info? Thumbnail images? EXIF or other metadata? Filenames? — would be collected by Roku (or other third parties) from Roku Media Player usage.

Nothing but crickets. No responses at all. Hmm.

Next, I sent a note with the same information request to the privacy email address that Roku specified for additional questions. 

Silence.

Then I asked on G+ and Twitter. A couple of retweets later, I was contacted by the Roku Support Twitter account. They suggested the privacy email address. When I told them that I’d already tried that, they suggested the Roku legal department email address.

You know where this is going. Still no reply at all.

At this stage I don’t know what’s up with Roku. Are they just so super busy that they can’t at least shoot out an acknowledgement of my queries? Or perhaps they’re scurrying around trying to figure out what their own Media Player actually does before replying to me at all. Or maybe they just hope that I’ll go away if they don’t acknowledge my email. (To paraphrase Bugs Bunny: “They don’t know me very well, do they?”)

To say that this state of affairs doesn’t exactly create a wellspring of confidence in Roku would be a significant understatement. 

Now I want to know the answers to my questions about Roku’s privacy policies irrespective of the query from that original firm that got this all started.

We shall see what transpires.

–Lauren–

When Google Gets Your Location Wrong!

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Recently, Google’s desktop news began showing me the weather and local news for Detroit in the state of Michigan, rather than for my corner of Los Angeles as had been Google’s standard practice up to that point. And local Google desktop search results are suddenly all for Detroit instead of Los Angeles — not particularly useful to me.

Meanwhile, my Google Home unit, which always happily reported the weather for my local zip code, now thinks that I’m somewhere in Hawaii instead. And my Chromecast’s screensaver is showing current temperatures that don’t seem to match any of these locales.

What’s going on? Damned if I know! And it’s a real problem, because Google no longer provides any obvious means for you to correct these kinds of errors.

When I started asking around about this, I received a pile of responses from other Google users with similar problems. For some their locations are off a bit, for others way, way wrong, like in my case.

Since some users had actually traveled to those locations at some point in the past, it appears that Google somehow got “stuck” on those old locations. But in my situation, I’ve never been to either Detroit or Hawaii. In fact, I haven’t been out of my L.A. cage in years.

The one device where my location seems to be known correctly by Google at this time is my Android phone — and that’s because the location is being pulled from the phone itself (e.g., the GPS) — as Google itself notes at the bottom of results pages on my phone.

The bottom of those Google pages on desktop say that they’re getting my location from my Internet address. That’s quite bizarre, since that IP address is quite stable for months at a time, and more to the point the public IP address geolocation databases I’ve checked all correctly show me in L.A. (either the city in general or more specifically here in the West San Fernando Valley).

At the bottom of those Google pages there is a “Use precise location” link — but as far as I can tell it has no useful effect. Google keeps insisting that I’m in Detroit in all desktop results.

As for the wrong location data now apparently being used by Chromecast and being reported by Google Home … they just add a layer of confused frosting on top of the foundational cake of these annoying Google location errors.

I realize that there are people who make a hobby out of trying to hide their locations from Google — and that’s their choice. But personally, I value the location-based services that Google provides. It’s frustrating to me — and many other users — that Google does not provide some sort of explicit mechanism for us to update this location data when it goes wrong.

One thing’s for sure, I’m not moving to Detroit, or Hawaii. OK, if I had to choose, Detroit is a fine city, but I don’t do well in cold winters, so Hawaii would likely win out.

But since in reality I’m not planning a move from L.A., I’d sure appreciate Google setting my location as being where I actually am, rather than thousands of miles away.

–Lauren–

UPDATE (September 28, 2017): As of yesterday morning, Google had me “on the move” again. My Google desktop services IP address insisted that I was in “San Diego County” — my Google Home claimed that I was in Las Vegas! Well, “getting closer” (to paraphrase Bullwinkle). Then late last night Home switched to my correct location. This morning I found that desktop services now have my location correctly as well. Did the spacetime continuum shift? Did someone at Google hear me? We may never know.