Plex sharing streaming habits raises privacy hackles

2 months ago 27

A Plex "feature" is raising privacy hackles of some users after sharing with others what they are watching on the streaming service — seemingly without their consent.

At the start of this month Plex rolled out "Discover Together," with an "Activity" feature that shows "what you and your friends are watching, rating, and saving to your Watchlists," according to the streaming service. It then also sends a weekly email to these friends detailing what they are watching on their servers.

And this, unsurprisingly, sparked outrage on social media and Plex's own user forum, with many pointing out that Plex is "self-hosted," and as such, they believed, more private than other streaming services — like Netflix, for example. 

"This option should be off by default," one user wrote. "I was not aware this information was being collected, processed, and disseminated. This feels like an extreme breach of trust and privacy."

Also perhaps unsurprisingly, a discussion about pornography — who is watching it, whether one should be embarrassed about it, and if Plex should disclose this info — ensued. Of course, there are worse things than watching smut online.

"I already know my friends watch way more embarrassing stuff than softcore porn, like Marvel Cinematic Universe shows," according to one xeet.

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PLex did not respond to The Register's questions for this story, but in the users' forum and on X/Twitter, described it as an it wasn't forcing this on people:

"It is opt-in. To share content viewed on a Plex Media Server, you had to opt in to sync your watch history data and then also opt in to make your watch history visible to friends. Both of those were prompted in the Plex app after screens explaining the features."

Several users also disputed this, and in an email to The Register, one reader told us: "I received an email of someone's viewing habits and they had no idea it was being sent."

According to another Plex customer: "When the user doesn't touch anything, but the OK button, the setting is set to "Friends" unless he ACTIVELY changes that setting." In other words: it sounds more like an "opt-out" feature, which is not best practices when it comes to privacy, or in keeping customers happy. 

A Plex employee, replying to a forum thread, also directed people to "tweak your email preferences (including the weekly review)" by visiting this link. ®

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