Your Airbnb’s TV Could Be a Security Risk

Key takeaways

  • Leaving your accounts connected to a TV (or apps on a smart TV) in an Airbnb or hotel could expose some of your information to future visitors or the host. Always remember to log out before leaving.
  • Consider using a streaming stick like Roku or Chromecast to avoid connecting to the TV itself, making it easier to protect your personal data and preferences.

You probably have a lot on your mind while traveling, especially when you finish your trip. It’s important not to forget anything, you have to think about transportation, and everything else. There is, however, one part that many people forget: disconnect from your streaming services on the TV. Or better yet, don’t add them in the first place.

How can a hotel TV pose a security risk?

Most hotels and other travel accommodations have had televisions for decades. For a while, this was one of the best ways to make more money from guests: they could pay extra to access premium cable channels, or the TV could advertise other services in the hotel or the complex. These days, most people just want access to the streaming services they already pay for, which is sometimes handled by personalized connection solutions like Hilton’s High‑Tech Connected Room. It’s also quite common to simply have an unmodified smart TV in the room, especially in destinations hosted on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other similar sites.

You can log in to Netflix, Hulu, or another streaming service on the TVs in the shared area, then forget to log out later because you have more important things to worry about while going out. In the handful of Airbnbs I’ve visited over the past few years, most of them had regular smart TVs with streaming apps installed. Most of them were still logged in with different accounts and YouTube apps usually still contained search histories from previous guests.

Roku has a Guest mode designed specifically for this situation, which erases all data from the TV after a guest leaves, either on a date specified by the guest or by remote action from the host. However, not all hotels, Airbnb homes, or other destinations use Roku TVs or are aware of this feature. Most other smart TVs don’t have a similar feature.

If you leave a streaming account logged in on a random TV, the service usually lets the other person see your email and other personal information. Password, payment information, and other private data usually require your password again (or simply aren’t accessible on TVs), but this varies by service. For example, a smart TV connected to YouTube would display information about your Google account, and in some scenarios someone could purchase movies and TV shows (change your purchase verification settings to avoid this).

Even if future visitors don’t do anything nefarious, do you really want someone ruining your Netflix recommendations or seeing random videos in your YouTube viewing history?

How to stay safe with guest TVs

If you forget to sign out of your streaming accounts before leaving and the TV won’t do it for you (like in Roku’s Guest mode), most streaming services have the option to force existing devices to log out. disconnect. For example, you can do this in Hulu by opening the accounts page on the desktop site or mobile app, then clicking the “Manage Devices” link. If you don’t know which device the TV is, use the “Disconnect from all devices” button instead.

Hulu management devices screen

Some other streaming services offer a similar logout option per device, while others require you to log out of all devices at once. This will mean logging back into your own phones, tablets, TVs, and other devices, but it’s better than nothing. For Google accounts (which include YouTube apps on TVs), you can see your recent logins from the Security tab of your account dashboard.

The opposite is to buy a streaming stick, like a Roku or Chromecast, and use that in place of any software on the TV itself. You can have all your streaming services ready to go on the streaming stick, then plug it into any TV and connect with the Wi-Fi password. It’s one of the best tech items to take along when you travel. Some hotels still block HDMI ports on TVs because they want to push guests toward paid viewing options, but that’s not common at Airbnbs and similar places. Don’t forget to take it off the TV when you leave!

Protect your online activity when traveling

Smart TVs aren’t the only potential security vulnerability when staying in a hotel or Airbnb, either. Every time you connect to a Wi-Fi network, it’s possible that the network manager (the Airbnb owner or the hotel) is spying on some of your online activities. To protect against this, use a travel router to ensure all data you transmit is encrypted and all your traffic is routed through a VPN.

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