Would you trade your privacy for a free TV?


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Telly is an emerging smart TV firm that has made some waves in 2024. First, the company partnered with a range of streaming and media companies such as Spotify, Microsoft, Nielsen and others.

Second, they announced a program in which they would give out their 4K 55-inch TV for free. Yes, that’s right, free. But nothing in this life is truly free, so how does Telly plan to make money on these TVs? The answer might shock you, but it’s a pretty innovative, yet potentially unsettling way to get customers to pay for a TV. In short, you pay for the TV with your data.

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Telly smart TV (Telly)

Telly is an emerging smart TV firm that has made some waves in 2024. (Telly)

The dual-screen TV that knows you too well

The Telly smart TV comes with a big bar integrated into the TV that sits just below the screen, and it’s used to show personalized ads that are impossible to bypass. The secondary screen doesn’t just constantly run ads, but it also features a few useful widgets that can show the score of games, live stock information, and quick weather information. But, in addition to these widgets, the secondary display will also show several related ads that it deems relevant to you.

Telly smart TV (Telly) 2

The Telly smart TV comes with a big bar integrated into the TV that is used to show personalized ads that are impossible to bypass. (Telly)

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Every company sells your data, so why not get a free TV out of it?

That’s Telly’s premise, at least. Telly isn’t totally wrong when they say that every company, and in particular every Smart TV on the market, is selling your data. From Samsung to Sony, small bits of data are picked up by your Smart TV and then sold to advertisers.

The data we are talking about can be related to your internet service provider, your specific location, your email address, your viewing habits and preferences, and pretty much anything else you do on a smart TV, including plugging in sound systems or game consoles, can and will be used to harvest data.

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Man holding remote

Once Telly collects your data, it creates an advertising profile for you, and sells that data to a wide range of advertising companies. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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How does the Telly program work?

Telly hasn’t devised a way to solve the crisis of privacy in our digital age, but it has introduced a new trade-off: giving your privacy away for free in exchange for a 4K 55-inch TV. If you are OK with giving away your data for a TV, here’s how the Telly program works.

First, you need to sign up with the company, which requires you to fill out a form with your legal name, shipping address, and a valid U.S. phone number. Next, you will have to download the Telly smartphone app, agree to their data collection policy, and complete a survey, which helps Telly create an advertising profile for you. Mind you, all of this data collection occurs before you even receive and power on the TV.

Telly smart TV (Telly) 4

Telly has partnered with a range of streaming and media companies such as Spotify, Microsoft, Nielsen and others. (Telly)

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What happens to my data?

This is where things get tricky. When Telly claims “all Smart TV’s are already selling your data,” they are absolutely correct. Every single smart TV available on the market is picking up your data, sometimes innocuous data related to what streaming apps you use and what shows you watch, but also personal data ranging from names, email addresses, and locations to phone numbers and biometric data on higher-end Smart TVs that include cameras. 

Once Telly collects that data, they use it to create an advertising profile for you, and more importantly, they sell that data to a wide range of advertising companies that use it to churn out more advertising.

This is nothing new in the world of Big Tech. We give away our private information every day, whether it’s our location info from our iPhone or Android smartphone or our biometric health data from our smartwatches. Every day, we knowingly, or at least according to big tech companies, hit “agree & continue” without reading the full Terms of Service and pass our data forward in a chain of tech companies and advertising firms.

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Telly’s trade-offs

Early reviews do indicate that TV is actually a decent TV. It features a 4K resolution with HDR and HDR10+ support, but it also only has a 60Hz refresh rate, so it’s not a great TV when it comes to gaming. I also prefer a higher refresh rate for watching sports, but movies and TV shows will look fine with a 60Hz refresh rate. 

Telly also managed to fit an integrated Dolby soundbar in the space between the TV screen and the secondary display. There’s also an integrated camera with a privacy shutter that can be used for Zoom calls, but not much else. Telly claims it doesn’t record anything, and it’s good that they offered the privacy shutter, but I personally don’t like cameras on my TV.

A real downside comparing the Telly to other smart TVs on the market is that the Telly isn’t actually a Smart TV. It comes preloaded with a few apps, notably Zoom and Spotify, but all of your streaming apps will come from an included Android dongle that you plug into an HDMI port, which annoyingly will require a secondary remote.

The TV does come with the usual range of ports, including an HDMI 2.1 with eARC, which is great for PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X gamers.

Kurt’s key takeaways

While there is a process that you have to sign up for to receive a TV from Telly, it feels like we are getting uncomfortably close to the line between mutual agreement and outright surveillance. The Telly doesn’t look like a bad TV, but you can get a pretty good smart TV these days for around $500. 

Ultimately, it’s down to how you view data and personal privacy in our modern digital world to decide if a Telly is worth it or not, but personally, there are too many outright privacy implications here for me to get one myself. In particular, it’s concerning how people might get roped into a deal for a “free TV” without fully understanding what they are signing up for.

How do you feel about the Telly? Are you willing to give your data away in exchange for a TV? Let us know in the comments below. Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

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