Telly offers free TVs, but you definitely shouldn’t take one

Flat screen TVs are back in price, and some sizes and brands can be had for under $100. But the best quality panels can be very expensive, and high-end equipment costs thousands of dollars. With the way the economy is turning in many areas these days, people may not have a few hundred dollars to spend on a new TV. That’s what Telly, a new TV company founded by Pluto TV founder Ilya Pozin, is counting on.

Telly will send users a free 55-inch 4K HDR TV, but there’s a catch. It will come with a secondary screen that will show you continuous ads, and it will also include a camera and microphone. Not to mention the extensive tracking that Telly requires you to participate in. Between the camera, microphone, and tracking — and the privacy concerns that come with those items — no one should take the “free” TV that Telly offers.

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The concept is good, but the tracking is not

Telly TV showing gadgets and advertisements on the secondary screen.

Source: Telly

The Telly concept isn’t bad on the surface. I’m sure some people would accept showing ads on a secondary display if it meant they got new hardware for free. Considering we see ads on everything else, from social media to network television, most of us are numb to ads at this point anyway. However, the problem with Telly’s free TV is not the ads, but the tracking that comes with them.

To accept the free Telly TV service, you agree to a Terms of Service agreement that details exactly how the software works. People who sign up get free TV, a secondary screen, and an Android TV dongle, since “smart” TV doesn’t connect to streaming services. But the agreement says that people who accept free TV agree to be tracked, and there’s no way to opt out and keep the free TV. If you choose to opt out, you will either need to send the TV back to Telly or pay $500, which will be charged to the credit card and you are required to keep it on file with Telly.

Telly’s data collection goes further than any smart TV we’ve seen

The secondary screen displays advertisements while the main TV is off.

Source: Telly

Customers using tech products and services are already widely tracked, but Telly’s data collection methods go further than any smart TV we’ve seen to date. There’s a built-in camera and microphone, though Telly says the camera comes with a privacy shutter. But since advertisers pay for the camera, microphone, and display panel, there are plenty of incentives for these companies to get a return on that investment. To do this, almost every movement while using Telly TV is tracked.

Telly says Display and Activity Data Policy. Although a lot of companies say the data they collect is given an anonymous identifier, Telly doesn’t. Instead, all viewing data that Telly collects will be associated with the IP address of the TV that it provides to you, making it easier to link the data collected on the TV to the user it is assigned to, and it can then sell that. Data for advertising giants. Users also have the option to associate their viewing data with their Telly account, but given the Telly ID methodology, I’m not sure if that would make much of a difference.

The idea that Telly might sell your data is counterintuitive, either. It’s something Telly acknowledges in the same policy document: “We may share your viewing and activity data with third-party advertisers and data partners who use it to show you relevant ads and provide you with personalized content.”

Even more frightening is the company’s activity data policy, which vaguely says the camera can be used for tracking, but that’s not entirely clear. “We also collect information about how you interact with our TV, such as… the physical presence of you and any other individuals using the TV at any time, and other usage data.”

Telly isn’t the first to try the ad-supported revenue model

Amazon Kindle with ads on the lock screen.

Source: Amazon

Telly isn’t the first company to experiment with an ad-supported revenue model, and it certainly won’t be the last. In fact, Amazon has used this model for years on its Kindle lineup of e-readers and tablets. In exchange for a cheaper purchase price, buyers can choose a model that displays cover screen ads. These ads will only appear when the device is in sleep mode, otherwise they will not affect your daily use. Most importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that these ads are personalized or tracked. And there is certainly no evidence to suggest that Amazon detected the “physical presence of you and other individuals” when the ads were circulating, as Telly TV does.

No free product is worth giving up your privacy

A screensaver shown on a Telly TV.

Source: Telly

Even if the TV is good (it’s not), that’s beside the point. No free tech product is worth compromising your privacy with, especially considering the level of tracking and snooping that Telly comes with. When you give up some of your privacy and allow another data point to be used for personalized ads, it’s very difficult to get that privacy back. For this reason, it is very important to protect your privacy on the Internet at all costs. You definitely shouldn’t allow yourself to be tracked neatly into your home just to get free TV.