This Smart TV Is Free, But It Watches You (and You Watch Ads)

Telly TV with a football game

Free and ad-supported streaming services like Pluto TV and The Roku Channel have become more popular over the past few years, but what if the TV itself was free too? That’s what “Telly” is trying.

Telly is a startup tech company that is giving away 500,000 smart 4K TVs, which are expected to ship in the summer later this year, with plans to expand the promotion to millions of TVs at some point. The catch is that each TV has an additional screen below the main panel that displays constant advertisements, alongside other information like weather and sports game stores. There’s also a webcam above the main screen, which Telly says can be used for Zoom calls, and a dedicated five-driver sound bar situated between the two panels.

The founder and CEO of Telly, Ilya Pozin (who co-founded Pluto TV), made the remarkably bold statement in a press release that “Telly is the biggest innovation in television since color.” The supposedly-revolutionary pitch is that people usually have to pay for both the TV and the content they watch, but services like Pluto TV changed the first part (let’s not forget antenna TV), and now the hardware can be free as well.

Subsidizing the cost of hardware with advertisements is nothing new — Amazon has been doing it for years with its Fire tablets — but making the hardware entirely free is less common. We’ll have to see how that works out for Telly, but in the meantime, the TV could be even more of a privacy nightmare than regular smart TVs. When you sign up to receive a TV, Telly asks you for specific lifestyle information to help place ads, and there’s a sensor (presumably the webcam) that detects how many people are watching the TV. Pozin told Variety in a statement that all of Telly’s features comply with privacy regulations… but honestly, that’s not a high bar in the United States.

The initial privacy policy was riddled with typos, and included sentences like “If we learn we have collected personal Data from a child under 13 years of age, we will delete that information as quickly as possible. (I don’t know that this is accurate. Do we have to say we will delete the information or is there another way around this).” Telly told TechCrunch that the posted privacy policy was an early draft that was published by mistake.

Source: Telly, TechCrunch, Variety

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