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Home / Features / Telly is giving away 500,000 TVs – and selling your privacy

Telly is giving away 500,000 TVs – and selling your privacy

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Especially if that free lunch is a free telly

A Telly TV with Matrix style data behind it
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Want a free telly? Telly wants you to have a free telly. As in a company called Telly wants you to have a free telly. It’s a nice telly too, with a 4K screen and a built-in sound bar Telly says will make you “feel like you’re at the movies or a concert”. Doubly so if someone loudly crunches popcorn next to you, or won’t stop nattering during the good part of a song.

Unusually for a telly, though, Telly has a second screen beneath the first. Telly the company is excited about this and argues that in tandem with an integrated camera and mic, this transforms its device into the smartest TV ever. Maybe it’s angling for a spot on University Challenge.

Then the marketing spiel blares ”Can your TV do that?” while referring to video calls, instant news updates, fitness, gaming, and a voice assistant. The answer being, er, yes, in many cases. And without needing a second screen. But for free? Of course not.

However, there’s a catch: Telly’s privacy policy would make even Facebook shudder.

It all ads up

Telly ad
Everything is on fire but this is all fine dot gif

To get a Telly, you must live in the US, presumably because EU regulators would instantly hurl Telly into the sun. The app-based sign-up process has you fill out a survey. After that point, Telly’s CEO chillingly explains “we know who you are, we know where you live, we know your income, we know what car you’re driving”, adding when this info is combined with viewing and audience data, targeting is “literally one-to-one”. Lovely.

At the time of writing, no-one from Telly had replied to my email, and so I couldn’t confirm whether Telly’s telly gets huffy and indignant if you try to throw it off the scent by loudly proclaiming you hate certain brands, or by covering up the second screen with a towel or some gaffer tape, like you’re in a low-rent episode of Black Mirror.

The one positive is although Telly will know almost everything about you, from your precise location to ‘cultural identifiers’, it does not yet sell voice and video data. Although you do wonder if advertisers don’t feel they’re getting enough information to subsidise this lark, Telly 2.0 will pause a movie until you stare without blinking at an advert for an entire minute, while loudly professing your undying love for the depicted product.

Smelly vision

Amazon Kindle
Amazon doesn’t offer a free Kindle with permanent on-screen ads. And I should probably stop giving Amazon ideas.

If this sounds horrifying, that’s because it is. Unsurprisingly, Telly disagrees. It says smart TVs already have ads, and yet you still pay for them, but with Telly, you don’t. This is, to put it mildly, spin. Amazon’s Kindle with ads gives you money off but doesn’t distract you from the latest Stephen King with permanent news headlines and adverts for fizzy beverages. And although smart TV operating systems are increasingly infested with ads, said irritants disappear when you watch something. Also, suggesting people willingly give away personal data and so they may as well get a free TV out of that feels exploitative.

That said, maybe Telly isn’t entirely wrong. In an era of end-stage capitalism, it’s possible normalising increasingly intrusive and creepy surveillance is the way things will shake out. Telly might argue it’s just being brazen and more up-front about the horror. If that’s the case, we can look forward to products like Phoney (free folding phone with second screen/camera/speaker combo that watches your every move and pumps out ads 24/7) and Con-soul (free gaming device that interrupts games every 17 seconds with an ad, thereby, in an entertaining play on words, slowly con-suming your very soul).

Me, I’m off to buy a few rolls of gaffer tape, just in case.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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