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Characterizing the Fire TV Advertising and Tracking Ecosystem


Popular smart TV platforms present advertising and tracking opportunities for the platform provider, app developers, and third party organizations. In this thesis, we conduct one of the first large-scale and systematic study of advertising and tracking services (ATS) on Amazon’s Fire TV — a platform that is part of 100 million devices sold worldwide. To do so, we build Firetastic, a tool that can automatically explore and collect network traffic for Fire TV apps. Through exploration of 1K apps, we identify 512 unique ATS domains — 60% of apps contact three to six of these domains. We conclude that ATS is prevalent on Fire TV. The ecosystem is dominated by its platform provider, Amazon, with a large third party presence from Alphabet. It is comparable to Android, sharing many common third party ATS but is more diverse and mature than the Oculus VR platform. Furthermore, we consider four state-of-the-art DNS-based blocklists that users can employ to block ATS. We observe that none of the blocklists are effective at blocking ads without causing some form of functionality or visual breakage. In addition, they fail to block the majority of personal identifiable information (PII) exposures such as Device ID and Serial Number to third party.

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