back to article Plex gives fans a privacy complex after sharing viewing habits with friends by default

A new Plex "feature" has infuriated some users after sharing with others what they are watching on the streaming service. This functionality is on by default. At the start of this month Plex rolled out something called Discover Together, which we're told shows folks "what you and your friends are watching, rating, and saving …

  1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    I used to be involved with 'emby' back in the late 2000's when it started off as a plugin called video browser for Vista Media Centre... It later became Media Browser or 'MB' and later 'emby'

    I left many years ago after butting heads with some others over the stupidity of certain design and direction choices.... in spite of being shouted down, screamed at and called all sorts of unpleasant things. Every single suggestion I made to streamline the UI and make the interface work better... was quietly implemented.

    But I'd had enough of people who could program but had little idea about decent UI design... I like to think I influenced them enough to push it in the right direction... But there still seems to be an element that is stuck in the 'if it works on a touchscreen it's good enough for everything' mentality.

    Even given my gripes with some of the idiots running the show over there at emby... I'd still choose it over anything else, because it's not harvesting your data, it's not sharing that data insidiously with everyone else and this is not the first time plex has introduced some nasty little tracking 'feature' into their software.

    I've also got a lifetime sub because of that involvement and years of testing and developing it.

    So my suggestion is ditch plex, give emby a try... heck, even give jellyfin a try (it's a fork of emby after all), it's lacking a lot of the features..

    I have tried Plex... I switched to it and ran it alongside emby for about 6 months after I cut ties... there were many things to like about it back then. But... that was also when they decided to introduce their first attempt at tracking what users were watching and storing on their media servers... so I dropped it there and then.

    1. Hanin Elias

      Does it require a cloud account?

      The worst part of any of these systems is you have to pay for them on top of them spying on you. You should assume that if they require activation of licensing, they are watching and logging everything they can. I'll continue to use my free alternatives, that do require more work to get set up initially, but do not come with subscription payments or data disclosure.

      If your media server software requires a constant internet connection to even use the thing, it is worthless, in my eyes. 99% of my media viewing is from within my LAN, so it does not REQUIRE internet access.

      I

      1. Sampler

        Re: Does it require a cloud account?

        Except to get album art, movie posters, tv ratings, character cast, bios and blurbs...

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Does it require a cloud account?

          None of which are necessary to play the media.

          That's the point. Extras are ok, but anything that does not clearly and explicitly require Internet access should still work just fine without it.

    2. Youngone Silver badge

      I paid something like $25 (local money) for a license for Serviio several years ago and it does everything I need.

      It's worth a look if you're in the market for that sort of thing.

  2. Splurg The Barbarian

    Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

    This type of thing really annoys me. Why do these companies think we care about what other people are doing? I am amazed at the number of services that do this type of thing.

    I mean who sits there in a design meeting and says " You know wht this services needs? The ability to tell other folk what you are watching". The only people, in my view, to be bigger idiots are thise that nod and go "Yes!!! That's it!".

    The mind truly boggles at the stupidity of it all.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

      They don't. It's just an excuse to sell your viewing data to advertisers.

    2. Blazde Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

      "Okay new idea. We're all too individualist and lonely now. Let's try to bring back the experience of crowding around the only telly in the house with a bunch of friends and family, like the good old days. TV viewing should be social again!"

      * mildly sceptical nods and agreement *

      "All those boring modern sitcoms recorded without laugh tracks? What if your friends were laughing along with you? Let's record an audio stream from each person's viewing and dub a mix of them into future viewings of that media. So you can hear your friends laughing along at the same jokes with you. You can hear in the quiet bit of the movie when one of your friends leans back in their creaky armchair and cracks open another beer. Maybe you'd like to do the same? You can hear when they're completely bored by the trash they're watching and decide to call their mother and check in about those gallstones.."

      * frightened silence *

      "Great. Could we get a first shot at this implemented by next week?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

        “Let's record an audio stream from each person's viewing and dub a mix of them into future viewings of that media.”

        Now that you’ve said this, some exec somewhere is now hastily rewriting this into an idea for a competitive group wankathon for bored teenagers…

        “Hear if your friends get to, uhh, the end of the episode before you, and high-five their achievements…”

        1. Blazde Silver badge

          Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

          “Hear if your friends get to, uhh, the end of the episode before you, and high-five their achievements…”

          Those annoying people who binge-watch shows at 1.5 times normal speed will really screw up the pooled audio you know..

    3. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

      My guess is you're not a member of the younger generations who grew up in the age of social media.

      I've been playing the game My Time at Sandrock recently, and the developers offer a couple DLC packs that are just clothing items. Granted it's a bit of a skewed sample, but if you go off of comments on the Steam forums for the game, there are a lot of people buying these things. I don't get it, probably because I'm too old same as you. I grew up with games that didn't offer the option to change how the character looked, full stop. I still tend to just go with whatever the default character model is if a game offers me choices. Damnit, I didn't sign up to play the Design a Character game, just let me get to the actual fucking game, would ya please!?

      Those damn kids grew up with the Internet and social media being an ever-present thing, and being encouraged to share everything. They've never had any privacy, so they aren't worried about losing it or having it invaded.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

        It's the pathological narcissm of the younger generation, who think everyone is interested in their opinion.

        (Says, without apparent irony, the middle-aged man declaring his thoughts on a Register comments page... :) )

        1. aerogems Silver badge

          Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

          I remember when Twitter was still new and not widely known. I took a look at it and it was basically just people literally narrating their life 140 characters at a time. I remember thinking something along the lines of why world+dog should care about your bowel movements or that you're getting something from the fridge. As I've said before, it seems oddly prophetic given what Twitter has become in the last year and change.

          But I don't think the younger generations have ever really given it much thought whether other people care what they have to say. They grew up in the "golden age" of social media, where it was the wild west and Facebook and friends could do basically whatever they wanted. As we're seeing, now regulators are starting to take notice and are not exactly thrilled with how social media companies deliberately designed their apps to be addictive. They've been conditioned, basically since the womb, to share literally everything about their life online so Zuck and friends can get rich off all that digital gold called PII. They've never been exposed to the idea that there's another way of doing things.

          1. Scott 26

            Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

            > I remember when Twitter was still new and not widely known. I took a look at it and it was basically just people literally narrating their life 140 characters at a time. I remember thinking something along the lines of why world+dog should care about your bowel movements or that you're getting something from the fridge.

            I think my very first tweet was something literally like "banal comment about my life"

            1. aerogems Silver badge

              Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

              Still better than probably 90% of everything on the service today.

        2. Snake Silver badge

          Re: the younger generation

          What makes you think that it's just the younger generation, and you being old? I know a 58- year old just as addicted to the validation feedback of social media as the stereotypical 19-year old.

          Believing that, because [we're] older makes us, somehow, better, and more immune to stupidity, is what got us to our planet's current mess in the first place.

      2. fromxyzzy

        Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

        For a fun few minutes, look up how many expansion packs there are for The Sims.

    4. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

      Do you not remember how twitter started? Photos of people's lunch.

      Some of the most popular IRC client plugins would inform all and sundry what music you're listening to (or, if you needed more attention, what softcore porn you've "accidentally" left in your playlist). I don't imagine that's stopped just because the conversation moved over to HTTP.

      > The mind truly boggles at the stupidity of it all.

      Humans? Interacting with each other socially? Madness!

      1. Timochka

        Re: Why do companies think we care what anyone else is doing?

        This mostly tells me that you REALLY don't remember how Twitter started. Maybe you mean Instagram...

        (Clue: Twitter started as an SMS service, hence the character limit. It was quite useful for sending "which pub are we going to tonight?" messages to groups of friends, back in those halcyon days. You couldn't even post/view a photo on Twitter without buggering about with image hosting sites and URL shorteners until about 5 years after it launched.)

  3. Yorick Hunt Silver badge
    Go

    Jellyfin all the way

    Sadly undernourished financially precisely because it doesn't use such underhanded funding manoeuvres, it manages to do precisely what it should do - without any privacy compromises.

  4. Sudosu Bronze badge

    Joke's on them

    I have no friends.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Joke's on them

      Jokes on you, several hundred advertising companies are your best buddies, although it's quite an abusive relationship.

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Re: ads

        An "ad"? What's that? Oh, I remember, that's the thing that suckers end up having to experience because they don't use NoScript, YT Vanced, NoRootFirewall and several other technologies.

        I pity them.

  5. cornetman Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Never heard of jellyfin before. Just checked it out and it looks extremely cool. I will check it out for my home server needs.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      I ran Plex on my Linux Mint NAS box quite happily for a few years, until one day it just died and refused to serve pages. Wiping, nuking, reinstalling... nothing fixed it, so I bit the bullet and went over to Jellyfin. Plex had been starting to annoy me anyway with its incessant nudging towards subscriptions and online accounts.

      JF has a few rough edges compared to Plex - minor things, like the list of your content is paginated in the browser because they can't or won't do an endless-scrolling type arrangement. And some people say that JF is a bit fussier than Plex when it comes to naming content, although I've not run into that. Honestly other than that my only gripe is that it doesn't seem to be able to handle libraries - e.g. for Anime - that contain both TV shows and films; it's one or the other, it seems, although if anyone can set me straight please do!

      I'd highly recommend Jellyfin.

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        Loaded it up on my main Linux Mint box. Seems good so far although I do have to get my media better, more consistently organised to make it GUI friendly.

        Very straightforward to install, just run a script, configure then go. Very impressed.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          For me the hardest part of installing JF - and Plex, too in its time, to be fair - was getting the file/directory permissions correct for the drive that contains all my content. The usual messing around with chown/chmod fixed it, although it's a bit of a PITA.

        2. cornetman Silver badge

          I have a Roku box for my main entertainment, so happy to see what there is an app available. Seems to work nicely.

      2. BenDwire Silver badge

        my only gripe is that it doesn't seem to be able to handle libraries - e.g. for Anime - that contain both TV shows and films

        But Plex can't do this either (out of the box) unless you use a custom agent such as Colima (Combined Library Metadata Agent). Is there not a way to add custom agents to Jellyfin?

        I bought a lifetime pass for Plex when it was on offer, so I'm not inclined to waste that investment and start over with something new. However, I have a low tolerance for being messed about, so if the Plex developers make too many stupid decisions then I'll be looking far more closely at Jellyfin.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Pint

          Eh, possibly. TBH the anime is all my wife's, and holds no interest for me, so I have little enthusiasm for trying to fix it. Mess with my Goes Wrong Show metadata, on the other hand Jellyfin, and We Will Have A Falling Out :)

      3. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

        "the list of your content is paginated in the browser because they can't or won't do an endless-scrolling type arrangement"

        The new "Jellyfin Vue" sub-project is a new web UI re-written from scratch to give a completely new take on presentation. Still experimental, so only worth playing with if you have time on your hands.

        "my only gripe is that it doesn't seem to be able to handle libraries - e.g. for Anime - that contain both TV shows and films; it's one or the other"

        When creating a new library, there IS a type labelled "Mixed Films and Programmes," which might serve your needs - but it's a relatively new option and I haven't tried it, so don't take this as an endorsement - just an observation.

        The Reddit Sub was abandoned by the development team a while back (when Reddit controversially changed their policies), but it still exists and has a mountain of useful info & hints. The Jellyfin forum is far less informative alas, as nobody saw any reason to re-post what was previously posted to Reddit.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Pint

          Cool! Thanks for the pointers.

          I'll happily admit that my understanding of what solutions exist for the two problems is a few months out of date; neither irritate me enough for me to have seriously dug into ways to fix them. But I do have time on my hands, after an unfortunate parting of the ways with my most recent employer, so I'll check out that Jellyfin Vue project.

          And I don't recall seeing the "mixed films and programmes" library type, but I created my libraries 12+ months ago and haven't had cause to create any since, so that could explain it.

          Thanks again!

          1. David 132 Silver badge
            Happy

            Replying to myself, to relate a tale of hilarity/incompetence/woe...

            So, following the above advice, I've just sorted my /Anime folder into two subfolders - /Anime/TV and /Anime/Movies.

            I then created a new library of type "Mixed films and programs", and added those two subfolders to it.

            Utter, utter shambles ensued.

            Jellyfin is now grimly determined that all of the TV shows in there - Black Clover, Cowboy Bebop etc, all named according to Emby conventions - are actually seasons of "Scream - The TV Show", a show that I didn't know even existed, and would have less than zero interest in anyway. Oh, the movies - Suzume, Weather With You - are apparently all episodes of a TV show called "Unknown".

            Entering the appropriate thetvdb/imdb IDs into the metadata editor didn't make any difference. "Oh, it's Cowboy Bebop - but it's still part of Scream The TV Show".

            (bangs head on keyboard)

            So I reverted the change and went back to the old, ugly method.

            Like I said, JF has a few rough edges :-D

            1. cornetman Silver badge

              Yeah, I found that a lot of my shows and music are poorly structured and a lot of the movies are labelled very bizarrely after movies that I certainly haven't got.

              That's almost certainly because they are terribly disorganised on my system. Some learning on my part to required to be sure.

              1. Damon Lynch

                I had the problem of bizarrely misrecognised media too. Thankfully, Jellyfin provides a robust mechanism to identify movies and shows, by embedding a metadata provider ID in the file/folder name, e.g The Castle (1997) [imdbid-tt0118826].

                Entering these values aint much fun, so I wrote a small FOSS program, Modest Movie Metadata, to automate the donkey work. Details are in the Jellyfin forum.

                1. cornetman Silver badge

                  > Thankfully, Jellyfin provides a robust mechanism to identify movies and shows, by embedding a metadata provider ID in the file/folder name, e.g The Castle (1997) [imdbid-tt0118826].

                  Yeah, just started going through this myself. It's a little bit of pain but it compared to adding metadata for all the tracks and downloading suitable graphics, I'm happy to do it.

            2. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

              I remember there being extensive discussions about handling Anime in the subreddit; you need to change the data scrapers for that library to ones that are Anime-specific.

      4. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

        Emby is the same with TV shows + movies (jellyfin is a fork of emby after all)

        What you need to do is go and look over on something like the tv database, to see if they've got the movie listed as a special. They usually do. So I create a Season 0 folder in the TV shows folder and rename the movie to S00Exx (with x being what the tvdb says). It should then scrape the metadata for it.

        I don't have any issues with metadata scraping, you just have to ensure your file naming follows a certain rules.

    2. Gordon861

      I recently put Jellyfin on my server PC (it's still running Plex to but rarely used).

      My main use for it is audio streaming to my car via Android Auto and a VPN to home, it works well but the system needs some better playlist/playback options for audio files.

      At home for video I just use a OMSC Vero V Kodi box.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "on by default"

    So, Plex has joined Facebook, uh, sorry, Meta, in the screw-your-users-we're-selling-advertising-data market.

    On by default. And you can turn it off. Yeah, sure, until the next update resets it to on. Oops, sorry, "honest" mistake, we won't do it again. At least not until the next update . . .

    Ah, Zuckerberg, who would have guessed that a uni drop-out like yourself would be a trendsetter in the 3rd millenium ?

    Okay, the wrong type of trend, but still . . .

    1. BenDwire Silver badge

      Re: "on by default"

      Actually I just checked my own plex server and it clearly states that whatever you change the setting to now it will revert back to 'private' in 2 years time. (Unfortunately only for those in the USA). At least that seems to be a token effort in the right direction.

      However, I will keep a weary eye on it just in case, but as it only sits on my LAN with no remote access then I'm not that fussed ... especially as it's not registered in my real name, and uses a unique email address that doesn't identify me. Oh, and there's a PiHole on my network too that really messes with all that tracking.

      1. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

        Re: "on by default"

        As Microsoft, Google, Meta (and many others) have shown, just because you can set an option to enable privacy, doesn't mean you'll actually get privacy.

        Just like peeing yourself whilst wearing black trousers - you'll get a warm feeling, but the net result is inconsequential if not detrimental.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does Plex send your habits to the rights owners as well?!

    $99 a year for the vpn so my ISP won’t disconnect me for using BitTorrent, always cautious when opening TPB or other torrent hosts, and then my media player reports me to Hollywood anyway…

    Plex works well on a Raspberry Pi 4 with an SSD, and Jellyfin happily runs alongside it. Jellyfin needs a bit more attention to prevent it from transcoding media. There are good clients for PC/iOS including AppleTV which suit me, though the options are a bit more limited if you want a native TV app. Infuse works really well as a player and prevents transcoding but how long before that starts reporting your viewing habits if it doesn’t already…

  8. JavaJester
    Meh

    Media Server?

    Never really saw the point of those things. Linux or Windows with a read only SMB/CIFS share and VLC to access it works beautifully. You even get your chapter markers supported right of the box.

    1. Yorick Hunt Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Media Server?

      Teach your octogenarian mother (or grandmother - I don't know how old you are) how to use VLC to access media from a network share (and not call you each and every time she wants to watch something) and I'll buy you a dozen pints of your prefered libation.

      1. Marty McFly Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Media Server?

        I don't know what you are talking about mom. Your music is right there where it always has been. Nothing has changed.

        Just insert the cassette, close the door, and press the Play button. If you want to hear it again, press Stop then Rewind.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How would Plex even know who my friends are? If I enable it somewhere else its on my account via a 4 digit activation code.

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