No such thing as a free TV

A startup called Telly dominated the news headlines this week after offering 500,000 people a smart TV with a market value of $1,000 for free. The catch? The screen includes a small display in the bottom corner that will run ads as you watch. 

  • Co-founder Ilya Pozin—who also co-founded free, ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV—claims Telly is “the biggest innovation in television since colour.”

Yes, but: Nothing’s ever really free. Not only will users always see ads, but they also have to agree to give up huge amounts of personal data

  • In addition to standard info like name and age, Telly TVs will also gather data like your precise geolocation and “social identifiers” like your favourite sports teams.

  • Telly is already in hot water after a journalist posted a screenshot of its terms that showed conflicting information about gathering data from viewers under 13

Why it matters: While Telly’s terms of service are particularly egregious, the truth is that smart TVs collect more data than a nosy detective. Using tech called automatic content recognition, they can spy on you while you do routine things, like your annual Gilmore Girls binge. 

  • This means your data is potentially vulnerable if a company were ever to face a security breach… kinda like what happened last year when Samsung was hacked.

Bottom line: Telly’s betting that users have accepted their data is up for grabs and they may as well get free stuff. Some experts are concerned by this, with one privacy researcher telling WIRED that Telly might “further normalize dangerous levels of surveillance.”—QH