Google TV’s ad creep wouldn’t be acceptable on Android phones

A TV on an orange background showing the Google TV interface
(Image credit: Google / Sony)

Brace yourself – 2023 is going to be the year when adverts really start to test the boundaries of what we'll accept on our tech. The latest example? This week some Google TV users discovered that their homescreen had gone beyond showing recommended films to flogging them cars and iPhones instead.

It’s far from the only recent example of death by advertising. Last year a Google experiment saw some YouTube watchers subjected to 11 unskippable ads in a row. But for me, Google TV’s antics were particularly pernicious – after all, the operating system (built on the older Android TV) lives on paid-for devices like Chromecasts and expensive TVs.

Would the same thing be acceptable on the Android phones? No, there’d rightly be an outcry that bought devices had been infected by ad creep. Google’s own Play Store policy says that ads “must only be displayed within the app serving them”. So why are TVs any different? There’s no real excuse, other than the fact that Big Tech thinks it can get away with it.

A TV on an orange background showing the Google TV interface

An example posted on Reddit by user venky61 of an iPhone ad on the Google TV interface. (Image credit: Reddit / u/venky61)

It’s one thing for Amazon and Roku to sell subsidized streaming sticks that are known to come with out-of-the-box advertising, but another for expensive TVs to slowly turn into home billboards. Google isn’t the only tech giant that’s milking the advertising cash cow on our big screens. Samsung’s Tizen-based UI and LG’s webOS TVs are also increasingly splattering sponsored content over their menus.

This is the thin end of a wedge that will, without any pushback, leave us with few unsponsored places to hide when using the tech we’ve already paid for. And with big tech facing a difficult year after multiple rounds of layoffs, the emergency advertising cord is only going to get yanked harder – yes, even on your iPhone.   

Adverts with a side of TV

Perhaps Google and others see TVs as acceptable places for homescreen ads because the small screen has already been heavily colonized. Way before smart TVs, our home viewing had commercials baked in as part of the deal. So slapping another Chrysler ad on the Google TV interface is no big deal, right? Well, it is when there hasn’t been a clear opt-in on a device you’ve already paid for.

Some will argue that buying a device from the world’s most profitable advertising company (that’s still Google, for now) is asking for trouble. But we don’t have to accept adverts on homescreens or user interfaces as the norm. The smartphone precedent is there – none of the big manufacturers currently accept adverts outside of apps, and there’s no reason that televisions or smart TV devices should be any different.

But wait, those auto-playing promos aren’t adverts, they’re ‘content recommendations’. Well, the latter is simply the trojan horse that Google TV’s new adverts have snuck inside – first, it started with ads for new TV shows, then it became iPhone commercials. Next it’ll be actors breaking the fourth wall with Nvidia’s creepy Eye Contact tech to tell you about their character’s favorite brand of toothpaste.

A TV on an orange background showing the Google TV interface

Third-party launchers like FLauncher (above) are available for owners of Android TVs who want a more minimalist UI. (Image credit: Google / Sony)

There are some workarounds to help ease ad creep on your smart TV. If your TV or streaming device runs Android TV or Google TV, you can install a different launcher like HALauncher or F-Launcher (above). But this can be fiddly and also leave you without some functions like library search. 

Life is also a bit harder for Samsung or LG TV owners. Some Samsung owners have resorted to adding the manufacturer to their router’s block list to keep ads at bay, which is surely a sign that something’s gone awry. And LG fans have to navigate a labyrinth of settings menus to stop their homescreens from blaring auto-playing ads (if that’s you, try going to All Settings > General > System > Additional Settings > Home Settings > Home Promotion, and turning the latter off).

Clearly, Google TV isn’t the only offender when it comes to insidious advertising on our gadgets – and in this challenging year for big tech, it won’t be the last either...    

Rotten Apples

Many smart TV owners have bought an Apple TV 4K for a cleaner, ad-free respite from their television’s built-in interface. While we consider Apple’s box to be the best streaming device around, it also isn’t above sneaky advertising antics. 

My own Apple TV switched its main TV app from showing an ‘Up Next’ queue (based on recent viewing) to a ‘What To Watch’ carousel of shows that are all, conveniently, on Apple’s own TV+ streaming service. To change this, you can go to Settings > Apps > TV > Top Shelf. So far, Apple’s pricey streaming box hasn’t embraced Chrysler ads, but a slow stream of adverts is trickling into Apple devices – including iPhones.

A TV showing the Apple TV menus for the Top Shelf setting

Even the pricey Apple TV makes you tweak some settings to keep your homescreen free of promoted content. (Image credit: Future)

Last June, Apple started selling ads on the front page of its App Store, while Digiday has claimed it’s planning to bring adverts to Apple TV+. It’s all a far cry from the apparently privacy-motivated push of Apple’s ‘Ask App Not to Track’ push, which conveniently damaged its rivals’ bottom lines while also apparently not covering Apple’s own apps.

How far Apple will take its promotional pushes isn’t yet clear. A clunky gear change in the vein of Google TV seems unlikely, but this ad creep drags all of our tech down – and doesn’t get me excited for a similar experience in an AR/VR headset. 

Our best defense is voting with our wallets, but we need alternatives – like the hardware equivalents of the ad-free Neeva search engine. Until then, prepare to battle your own tech for the right to an ad-free experience.

Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.