Mr. Brookman of the Consumers Union, who reviewed the opt-in screen, said the trade-off was not clear for consumers. “Maybe the interactive features are so fantastic that they don’t mind that the company’s logging all the stuff that they’re watching, but I don’t think that’s evident from this,” he said.
Citi and JetBlue, which appear in some Samba TV marketing materials, said they stopped working with the company in 2016 but not before publicly endorsing its effectiveness. JetBlue hailed in a news release the increase in site visits driven by syncing its online ads with TV ads, while Christine DiLandro, a marketing director at Citi, joined Mr. Navin at an industry event at the end of 2015. In a video of the event, Ms. DiLandro described the ability to target people with digital ads after the company’s TV commercials aired as “a little magical.”
The Times is among the websites that allow advertisers to use data from Samba to track if people who see their ads visit their websites, but a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, said that the company did that “simply as a matter of convenience for our clients” and that it was not an endorsement of Samba TV’s technology.
Companies like Samba TV are also a boon for TV makers, whose profit margins from selling sets can be slim. Samba TV essentially pays companies like Sony to include its software. Samba TV said “our business model does subsidize a small piece of the television hardware,” though it declined to provide further details.
Smart TV companies aren’t subject to the stricter rules and regulations regarding viewing data that have traditionally applied to cable companies, helping fuel “this rise of weird ways to figure out what someone’s watching,” said Jonathan Mayer, an assistant professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University and a former technology adviser at the Federal Communications Commission.
The smart TV companies are overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, Mr. Mayer said, meaning that “as long as you’re truthful to consumers, even if you make it really hard to exercise choices or don’t offer choices at all, you probably don’t have much of a legal issue.”
Mr. Daddi said the trade commission had held up Samba TV as “an exemplary model of data privacy and opt-in policies,” pointing to its participation in a smart TV workshop the agency held in late 2016. A commission spokeswoman said that it invited a diverse array of panelists to events and that “an invitation to participate in an F.T.C. event does not convey an endorsement of that company or organization.” She added that the agency does not “endorse or bless companies’ practices.”