Telly TV - Privacy vs. Convenience

You might have seen this on the news about a year ago - a smart TV, complete with 4K and HDR, and even a unique soundbar. All for free* (*With a catch.)

Telly, made by the same folks who made Pluto (a free streaming service), is a TV meant to be “the biggest thing to happen to TV since color.” Like many tech startups, it claims to be the future - the soundbar included has a screen itself, displaying somewhat useful information, such as the time, weather, so on. However, the main star of the show is the price tag - for $0.00, you get the 55” model for free.

But of course, nothing is free, and there’s a catch - you have to allow ads on the soundbar screen, and more importantly, allow your personal data to be sold.

Now, I want to make this abundantly clear - I do not have a Telly myself. I considered getting one when it was first announced back in mid 2023, but decided against it since I already have a TV and didn’t want one so intrusive. That isn’t the topic of this article, and why I’m making one without having the product itself. This is not about the quality or features of it, for that you can go to another site. This is about the limits of a user’s consent - how much are you willing to give away for a service? At what point does it become too much, regardless of price? Are you willing to trade your privacy for convenience, and is the regular person willing to?

Let’s first get into the details. The TV tracks a couple things - it has a camera and microphone in the TV and soundbar. You have to keep these plugged in, or else it would be a violation of their TOS. That alone is quite concerning, but isn’t too far from what’s already done on smartphones. (The difference being it doesn’t track you 24/7 and you can disable both with no worries.) It’s also worth noting that the camera is only used at certain points, mainly for Zoom calls, and is covered by a shutter when it’s not in use.

The main thing that would be tracking you would be (what I assume) is the usual - any services you watch via the SmartTV OS, stuff based around your location, etc. It should be noted that I’m not 100% sure if you can even install regular streaming apps on here - I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether you can only use the pre-installed apps (Spotify, Zoom, etc.) or if you can install more, such as Netflix. In either case, you’re still allowed to use any HDMI device, so you can easily use an Android TV stick with no worries of the TV tracking you.

The main crutch, of course, is the dreaded advertisements. It seems they’re restricted to only being on the soundbar screen. You can turn this screen off, but not when you’re watching something (you can only dim it in that case.) Some articles say they “weren’t nearly as intrusive as I thought they would be” (source) or they’re straight up scams: A fake MrBeast ad, showing on the soundbar screen. (source)

You can report ads, but it seems it’s a very similar case with how YouTube/Google ads are treated. I wouldn’t be surprised if more “sus” ads start showing up, like the fake mobile game ads and such.

It’s also worth mentioning that after nearly a half year since the first models arrived, a way to block these ads has not surfaced. Even if one were to be found, it’s likely Telly would actively target these units and shut them down. After all, it is how they make their money back, and it is explicitly stated in their ToS.

With all this in mind, let’s get back to the main topic. Knowing all this, or at the very least the synopsis (a free TV + soundbar with ads and data tracking,) would the average person get it? Well, I went to go find out.

I interviewed 12 completely random people IRL. Some from work, some strangers. Young, old, tech savvy or not. I asked each one of them the following:

Do you know what the Telly TV is? It’s a 55” TV, has 4K, HDR, and even has a soundbar with a screen. But there’s a catch - you have to allow ads to show on it, and it will track some of your data. Knowing this, would you get it?

It’s worth noting that only 1 person knew what it was beforehand.

What I got was interesting - a perfect 50/50 split. I was expecting it to be all one or the other, but it seems people are split on it. Some cases say it’s situational or would only get it under a trial period. A few wouldn’t get it period due to the ads alone. And others simply decided it’s too good of a deal to pass up on.

Now, it goes without saying - this is a very small sample size. In normal cases, I’d have done a poll, either here or online somewhere. However, I wanted to survey the average person. Running a poll on here would have people favor not getting it (obviously due to privacy) and doing it online would only guage more tech savvy individuals.

There are some other data points though - the founder stated last year that “250,000 people registered within the first two weeks of launch” (source) and planned to ship at least 500k in the first year. Telly was popularized in the media (most notably The Verge) but not that much. The subreddit r/TellyTV has less than 900 members at the time of writing, and the Android companion app only has 50k downloads. So either the 250k was a lie for marketing reasons, or a lot of people decided against it later on.

Where does that leave us with? A very big maybe on that question, and I think it’s leaning towards not registering. If the user is desparate, chances are they’ll get it (obviously), but most people are either only trying it, or deciding against it entirely.

That’s a good sign for now. A lot of people don’t like having an annoying billboard in their house, and especially not one that’s tracking what you’re doing. But there is an underlying concern - most people only care about the ads themselves.

For the average consumer, they would prefer not having to view them. But for their personal data? They either don’t know, or don’t care. In fact, some actively support collecting it. And this is where the industry will inevitably lead towards. The Telly may be trying to predict the future in its ad-supported structure, and it may or may not be right on that. We won’t know about that for a long while. But it very well could be accurate on one prediction - in its privacy, or lack thereof. And that, for better or worse, is what it’s truly impacting in the tech industry.