The TV at Your Airbnb Could Be a Security Risk

Key Takeaways

  • Leaving your accounts logged into a TV (or apps on a smart TV) at an Airbnb or Hotel could expose some of your information to the next visitors or the host. Always remember to log out before you leave.
  • Consider using a streaming stick like Roku or Chromecast to avoid logging into the TV itself, making it easier to protect your personal data and preferences.

You probably have a lot on your mind during travel, especially when you’re wrapping up your trip. It’s important to not forget anything, you have to figure out transportation, and everything else. There is one part many people forget, though: log out of your streaming services on the TV. Or better yet, don’t add them in the first place.

How Can a Hotel TV Be a Security Risk?

Most hotels and other travel lodgings have been equipped with TVs for decades. For a while, it was one of the best ways to make more money from guests—they could pay extra for access to premium cable channels, or the TV could advertise other services at the hotel or resort. These days, most people just want to access the streaming services they already pay for, which is sometimes handled with custom login solutions like Hilton’s High‑Tech Connected Room. It’s also pretty common to just have an unmodified smart TV in the room, especially in destinations hosted on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other similar sites.

You might log into Netflix, Hulu, or another streaming service on the TVs in the shared area, and then forget to log out later because there are more important things to worry about on your way out the door. In the handful of Airbnbs I’ve been to over the past few years, most of them had regular smart TVs with streaming apps installed. Most of them were still logged in with various accounts, and the YouTube apps usually still had search histories from previous guests.

Roku has a Guest Mode specifically made for this situation, which wipes all data on the TV after a guest leaves, either on a date specified by the guest or a remote action by the host. However, not every hotel, Airbnb house, or other destination uses Roku TVs or knows about that 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 typically allows the other person to see your email and other personal details. The password, payment information, and other private data usually requires your password again (or just isn’t accessible on TVs), but that varies by service. For example, a smart TV signed in 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 messing up your Netflix recommendations, or seeing random videos in your YouTube view history?

How to Stay Safe With Guest TVs

If you forget to log 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 an option to force existing devices to log out. For example, you can do this in Hulu by opening the accounts page on the desktop site or mobile app, and clicking the “Manage Devices” link. If you aren’t sure which device is the TV, use the “Log out of all devices” button instead.

Hulu managing devices screen

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

The other way around this is to buy a streaming stick, like a Roku or Chromecast, and use that instead 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 log in with the Wi-Fi password. They’re one of the best tech items to carry when you travel. Some hotels still block HDMI ports on TVs because they want to push guests to paid viewing options, but that’s not common in Airbnbs and other similar places. You just need to remember to take it out of the TV when you leave!

Protect Your Online Activity When Traveling

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


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