The true cost of a free Telly TV

There is no such thing like a free lunch. There is also no such thing as free television.

But Telly TV offers just that. Its 55-inch smart TV is free for the first 500,000 people to put their name on a booking list. At a glance, it looks like any other television worth hundreds of dollars. But below the screen, separated by a sound bar, sits a second, smaller screen. Here, people will see weather and stock market updates along with ads—lots of ads.

This is what Telly CEO and founder Ilya Pozin had to say, describes as the “greatest innovation in television since color”. That innovation? Instead of paying for the big screen through which he is forced to advertise, Telly offers him the TV free of charge. So instead of paying for a TV and a bunch of channels or streaming services, while companies make money from advertising and selling personal data, people can at least get the TV for free, the logic goes.

But this is no ordinary TV, and it doesn’t come with an ordinary set of terms and conditions. Telly’s data policy it says it may “collect information about the audio and video content you watch, the channels you watch, and the length of your viewing sessions.” Telly also has a built-in camera with microphone that can track movement and be used for video calls, exercises or gaming, though the camera comes with a shutter that someone has to open and can close, according to the company.

The TV also tracks a customer’s inquiries, settings, preferences, apps, purchases, and the buttons a customer clicks; the time, frequency and duration of your viewing or activities; and the physical presence of the people using the television. The company even collects what it calls cultural and social identifiers, giving the example of whether someone is a fan of a specific sports team, a skateboarder, or an environmental activist.

Viewing and activity data is anonymized and shared with third-party data partners and advertisers, according to Telly. And if people choose not to share their data, they lose Telly services and must return the free TV, or be charged for it.

Telly’s business model assumes that people are finally resigned to giving away their data and willingly trading it for convenience, or in this case, a new screen. But the full consequences of sharing personal data from the living room are not yet known.

“What this product does is lean into the idea that all of this is going to happen anyway, so you might as well get free hardware,” says Nathalie Maréchal, co-director of the Data and Privacy Project at the nonprofit Technology Center. . and Democracy. “But for me, the point is that a different world is possible.”

Telly doesn’t see his methods as novel. “Almost all of today’s smart TVs collect consumption and audience data,” says Dallas Lawrence, Telly’s director of strategy. Lawrence explains that people fill out a five-minute survey when they join, where they reveal brand preferences, household demographics, and interests. The only difference between Telly and other TVs, Lawrence says, is that the company asks people to share their data in advance and gets a free TV in return.


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