Foxtel Hubbl – search saviour or sinner? (updated TV Spyware guide)
Foxtel Hubbl is a new service to aggregate free-to-air (FTA), digital streaming on demand, and paid TV services into one interface – a universal program guide. Sounds heavenly – search for a show and find where it is.
Let’s get straight to the point. Foxtel has abandoned OzTAM/VOZ TV ratings because it allegedly underreports Foxtel viewing data and, therefore, affects its advertising revenue. Foxtel claims OzTAM ratings are 30-40% less, and OzTAM claims Foxtel’s 30-40% more is wrong – who is right?
One of Foxtel’s solutions is Hubbl, an add-on box or TV that combines most digital and FTA sources in one EPG interface so it can get more advertising revenue. It is not an altruistic move as Foxtel would have you believe.
Update: We have details of Hubbl Foxtel Hubbl update – the black box and TV in detail.
Why is Foxtel Hubbl a sinner?
The sinner part is that it is spyware in a box. Now Foxtel will have all, repeat all, your viewing data and controls all the advertisements served to its 3.1 million digital subscribers and 1 million IQ set-top boxes. It hopes Hubbl will become part of the overall Australian TV landscape. More data, more advertisements and more money means more reasons to forget this device and go directly to paid advertisement-free streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Now, Foxtel cannot come out directly and admit this is yet another spying device, but several industry leaders saw it for what it was. It is euphemistically called digital currency. This could spell the end of OzTAM/VOZ ratings – Australia’s official source of television audience measurement, covering broadcast free-to-air and subscription viewing in the five mainland metropolitan markets owned by Channels 7, 9 and Ten.
Your data is gold – if the product is free, the product is you!
Few TV owners understand that the moment you turn on your smart TV, it reports to ratings organisations what/who/when/where you watch. Add to that VOD services like Netflix et al., the emergence of Samsung TV Plus, LG Channels, Hisense VIDAA, Google TV (Sony, TCL), Amazon FireTV, Apple TV, Fetch/Roku/Telstra TV (Telstra), as well as your internet service provider and your data is electronically whored to the highest programmatic (automated advert insertion) bidder.
Most people could not care less, but some value their privacy. Unless Foxtel Hubbl comes clean and states it is primarily a data aggregator disguised as a service, then avoid this device.
How can you reduce data hoovering?
Remember that any plug-in box assumes consent to sell your data. Some have the ability in settings to change Advertiser ID, but none will stop advertising serving.
Most TVs also have a privacy setting. All we can suggest is that you don’t log into the Manufacturers’ Account as that starts extra data flows. Unless you want to use their so-called free advertising-supported (FAST) TV channels.
Also, look for setting headings like Personalised TV recommendations or Interest Based Advertisement – it collects data and recommends shows (a form of advertising) turn it off.
Adblockers for smart TVs exist
If you have an LG or Samsung TV, you can open your NBN router’s interface and under filters or security block ad servers (these may not all work in Australia, but it cannot hurt). Here is a larger list of more brands.
But there may be one straightforward solution that blocks most advertisements using AdGuard’s free DNS server. Find settings, networks, and look for DNS settings on your TV. DNS is a dynamic name server, usually set to the TV manufacturer’s server, so it can insert advertisements.
Take note of the number – it will be XXX-XXX-XXX-XXX and change to 18.104.22.168 or 22.214.171.124. If you have issues, revert to the manufacturer’s DNS.
Note: We have not yet tested all options, so make sure that you take note of any settings you may change on the router or TV.
Foxtel has responded, and we present this and our response in full in the interests of transparency.
My name is Alan and I am the head of comms at Foxtel Group / Hubbl.
I am reaching out to clarify a few inaccuracies in your article yesterday with the aim to have the story updated. Please see some additional information below by way of background only.
Firstly, our decision to move away from OzTAM is not in any way linked to our decision to bring Hubbl to market. These are two separate initiatives being rolled out by two separate divisions in the company and it is inaccurate to link them together.
- Our shift in measurement led by Foxtel Media is due to the existing infrastructure not fully capturing the dynamic environment including the many ways viewers consume Foxtel content across many channels including SD, HD and 4K and growth in streaming audiences. The new partnership with Kantar purely offers a counterpoint to existing OzTAM panel data utilising viewing data of 1m Foxtel set top boxes.
- With Hubbl, we see streaming aggregation as the next frontier in entertainment and believe that this new product will help solve the challenges of streaming born from the explosion of choice in streaming apps available in Australia. In 2021, we announced we would be the exclusive distributor of Sky and Comcast’s Glass technology and Hubbl is our version of that for Australian consumers.
Hubbl is not ‘spyware’ as you call it and it is inaccurate to label the product as such. It is TV technology powered by an entertainment operating system that creates a unified viewing experience, fusing together paid and free streaming into one simple user interface, along with many other compelling features. Hubbl will not have advertising integrated into the user interface. The only advertising will be via third-party apps that have advertising integrated into their platform or via FAST channels integrated into the channel and content offering.
Data is, of course, an integral part of how we enhance the viewing experience via personalised recommendations and helps inform future product innovation, the implication that we exploit customers by irresponsibly collecting and use of customer data is not accurate. At the Foxtel Group we take customer data privacy very seriously to ensure data is secure and abides by all existing legal frameworks in Australia.
I look forward to briefing you in more detail on the product and proposition in the coming weeks / months as we head towards consumer launch.
No amount of euphemism on Foxtel’s part about Hubbl’s convenience as a single-point EPG aggregation hides the fact that this device captures all viewers’ streaming data to Foxtel’s advantage.
There is nothing wrong with data harvesting if there is full disclosure – who/what/when/where/why before purchase allowing knowledgeable user consent – otherwise, it is spyware. Australia’s lax privacy legislation has a long way to go and is no excuse for non-disclosure.