I just set up a Plex Media Server for my movies and music collection. I love that it lets me access everything even when I’m away from home! But I’ve heard that the Plex software collects a lot of usage data. How can I maximize my privacy while still using the program?
I’ve been a fan and Plex user for many years at this point and have watched it grow from a small team of software developers producing a cool app solution to a large company that seeks to be a player in the enormous worldwide streaming industry. How enormous? In 2023 the streaming market was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion, and it’s projected to grow to a staggering $184 billion worldwide by 2027. Plex Media Server now offers live TV streams, integration with Over the Air (OTA) TV tuners, DVR features, and an ecosystem that includes support for third-party plugins and extensions.
There are also Plex users who have multiple terabytes of content and charge people for remote access, essentially powering personal and homebrew streaming services too. Those are often operating in a grey area in terms of copyright and protected content, but that’s another post entirely. Suffice to say, Plex has expanded and grown quite a bit as the company’s seen the proverbial writing on the wall. And as part of becoming a bigger streaming provider, its software has also expanded to both share and collect more and more usage and user data.
Shortcuts: User Data Sharing | Email Privacy | Server Data Collection & Sharing
In other words, the buzz you’ve heard is not entirely unfounded: Plex does share more information than it used to, and we should expect that even more data will be shared in the future. Fortunately, you can stem the flow with some smart settings tweaks. Let’s have a look…
HOW MUCH DO YOU SHARE WITH OTHER USERS?
The first and easiest thing to change is the amount of information you, as a Plex user, share with other Plex users. This is all based on having separate accounts for each Plex user, but that’s a best practice anyway, rather than everyone sharing a single account (which messes up “continue watching” and more). Connect to your Plex account through a Web browser by going to app.plex.tv and logging in.
Now click on your profile icon on the top right to reveal the main menu:
Choose “View Profile” from the resultant list, which will bring up some interesting stats about your account too:
Honestly, these numbers are low: I watch a lot more than 17 movies/year through my Plex. Accurate or not, however, scroll down to get to the actual settings and options. You can change your name, email address, etc, but it’s the very last option that you want:
The section is titled “ACCOUNT VISIBILITY & ACTIVITY SHARING” and the text below it explains “Manage which of your Plex activities are viewable by your friends on Plex.”. Click on the adjacent link “Edit” to proceed.
I’m sure the majority of Plex users don’t realize that by default they’re sharing their watch history, watchlist, ratings, friend lists, and even account visibility with everyone on the same Plex server, along with potentially lots and lots of other people. So your midnight viewings of Girls Gone Wild: Topeka and Best of Daytona Beach Wet T-Shirt Contests 2021 is something everyone can see. For some that’s a potentially alarming revelation!
As you can see with the “My Ratings” option, you can generally choose from Friends of Friends, Friends, or Private. Want to batten down the privacy hatches? Choose “Private” for everything, then click Save.
TOO MUCH EMAIL FROM PLEX?
Related, but not a setting here on your Plex account menu, are the set of options related to email you get from Plex corporate. Monthly emails about new films on the free streaming side might be a welcome addition, but if you’d prefer not to hear from Plex at all, you can unsubscribe from marketing and notification messages. Simply go to the Plex site: plex.tv/email-preferences/
ALL ABOUT PLEX SERVER SETTINGS
For a Plex user, the above are all the settings you can access, but if you’re running a Plex Media Server, then there’s one additional preference you can change that is so important, it has its own page – with a lot of information listed. Streaming services create an enormous amount of useful data to media publishers, including what people watch, how long they watch, what time of day they watch content, and even what’s uploaded and being viewed by geographic location, etc. Ostensibly all without identifiable data tags, but… while Plex insists it doesn’t track all of that information, do you really trust Plex, especially if you’re operating in that grey area, making downloaded, copyright-protected material available to others?
To start your education about what the Plex server is collecting and reporting to Plex HQ, go to this URL:
Here’s what the top of the page looks like:
Again, this isn’t accessible through the Plex admin interface that you’re probably already somewhat familiar with from setting up your server, it can only be found on the Plex Web site itself.
There’s quite a bit of information on this page detailing exactly what they collect in various situations, so detailed that I expect a lawyer or even a team of lawyers collaborated on producing this content. They insist that it’s all benign:
Again, they’re saying the right thing, but do you believe them? If not, about 2/3 of the way down this long, long page is a box that contains the single setting you can leave checked (by default) or uncheck to disable:
As it states: “Sending us this data helps us run and improve our services. If you uncheck this button, the playback data listed above will not be collected or sent to Plex.”
One could go down the conspiracy rabbit hole if we wanted to ask the question of why this important setting is so hard to find, but let’s not do that, because now you know where it is, and what it means!
Anyway, you can decide if you want to stay opted in for this data collection and sharing or want to drop off the grid with your Plex Media Server. Good luck!
Pro Tip: I’ve been running and sporadically writing about my Plex server for quite a while. You can find the articles in my Computers & Internet Basics area if you’d like to read more while you’re visiting!