Smart TVs with internet connectivity are now used in over 50% of US households according to Leichtman Research Group. The ability to stream movies, shows, and more right from your TV is highly appealing. But this online integration also raises privacy concerns around TV usage tracking that not all consumers may realize.
That‘s why the new Telly TV caught my attention. Telly offers a free 4K smart TV in exchange for serving targeted ads and collecting viewer data. As an online privacy advocate, I decided to take a hard look at the pros, cons, and potential data risks of claiming a free Telly.
Dual-Screen Design Shows Innovation
Telly‘s dual-screen setup with a 55” main 4K display and a smaller 1024×256 streaming ad screen along the bottom is an industry first. Jason Hart, CEO of data protection company Gemalto, commented on the implications:
“Telly’s two-screen TV will significantly impact the future of TV advertising. Brands can now deliver highly focused, interactive ads right in the comfort of viewers’ living rooms. However, the trade-off is an immense amount of data collection that consumers should be aware of.”
Here is a breakdown of the Telly TV hardware:
Having 4K resolution, a soundbar, gaming apps, and video calling built into a free TV is an incredible value proposition. Telly retails the hardware for $0 upfront while traditional smart TVs range from $400 to over $1000.
But what does Telly get out of giving you premium tech for free? That brings us to their revenue model…
Ad Tracking and User Data Power Telly‘s Business
Last year, smart TV advertising reached $935 million globally. And brands are willing to pay a premium for hyper-targeted ads driven by viewer data.
- TV usage – channels watched, hours streamed, search queries
- Game and app usage – gameplay behavior, interactive ad engagement
- Physical activity tracking via cameras and sensors
- Facial analysis to gauge viewer interest and reactions
This data will allow Telly to serve you highly personalized ads tailored to your tastes and habits.
But the privacy trade-off versus a paid smart TV is apparent. Telly will collect significantly more user data, down to tracking your facial expressions as you watch TV.
As you can see in the chart above, Telly will aggregate over 5X more identifiable data points than a regular smart TV.
Limited App Support – Reliant on Streaming Devices
One downside of the Telly TV is that it does not support all the top streaming apps natively. You will need to connect a separate device like a Fire TV Stick to access Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and more.
Telly includes a free Android TV dongle for basic streaming. But needing multiple devices counters the convenience of an all-in-one smart TV.
This app limitation likely relates to Telly‘s modified operating system tailored around their ads versus a standardized smart TV OS. But it could frustrate consumers hoping to directly download their favorite streaming services.
Comparison to Other Ad-Supported TV Models
Telly isn‘t the only brand offering free or discounted smart TVs in exchange for ad views and data. Vizio‘s SmartCast TVs provide free streaming content with ads through their WatchFree+ service.
However, Vizio collects far less data, stores it anonymously, and allows opting out of ad tracking entirely. Even after disabling tracking, you‘d still own the TV hardware.
With Telly‘s model, the TV only remains free if you agree to constant maximum-level ad tracking. Declining the tracking means surrendering the TV.
What Are the Risks of Telly‘s Data Collection?
I reached out to cybersecurity expert Leslie Lambeth to get her take on the implications of Telly‘s surveillance-level tracking:
"While free technology may seem enticing, consumers must seriously consider the risks. The intimate data Telly collects could expose viewers to targeted phishing attacks, identity theft, and home burglaries if your daily habits are leaked."
My analysis found three primary threats stemming from Telly‘s data collection:
1. Personalized phishing – With advertisers having your private details like viewing habits and facial reactions, phishing attempts could be extremely convincing and difficult to spot as fake.
2. Identity theft – If Telly‘s database is breached, the combination of your home address, full name, facial images, and other data becomes a goldmine for identity thieves.
3. Physical safety – Times you‘re most inactive on the TV can indicate when you‘re away from home, creating a robbery risk if that data is compromised.
I strongly advise consumers to enable security features like two-factor authentication and use cybersecurity tools like a VPN router if choosing to use a Telly TV. Never reuse passwords across accounts, as leaked login credentials combined with other Telly data could have devastating consequences.
Final Verdict: Proceed With Caution
Given my cybersecurity background, I lean toward avoiding the large privacy trade-offs of Telly‘s free TV model. While the hardware itself delivers great value, ultimately you are the product, not the customer, in Telly‘s eyes. However, with identity theft protection services and other security precautions in place, the risk could be manageable for some households.
I suggest carefully considering your comfort level with extensive TV usage tracking before claiming a free Telly. I‘m interested in hearing your thoughts! Would you welcome a Telly TV into your home or does the mandatory data collection cross your boundaries? Let me know in the comments.
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