Telly, the “free” ad-supported smart TV, has a red-flag privacy policy

Yesterday we took a look at a new hardware startup called Telly that is giving away half a million of its new smart TVs for free. The catch is that the 55-inch smart TV comes with a second screen that sits below it and displays ads while you watch your favorite shows.

The trade-off for free TV is agreeing to let this brand new startup collect massive amounts of data about you because the money you make from ads covers the cost of the TV itself.

According to its privacy policy, the startup collects information about what you view, where you are, what you view, as well as what we can infer about you from this information.

But notes left in its privacy policy that were mistakenly published raise concerns about its data practices. As the first noted journalist Shoshana Wodinsky:

Below, we’ve pasted verbatim part of Telly’s privacy policy, including typos, as it was published at the time – and highlighted the questionable passage in Bold for emphasis:

“As stated in the Terms of Use, we do not knowingly collect or solicit personal information from children under the age of 13; If you are a child under the age of 13, please do not attempt to register or otherwise use the Services or submit personal information to us. Use of the Services may involve the physical presence of a child under the age of 13, but no personal information about the child is collected. If we learn that we have collected the personal data of a child under the age of 13, we will delete this data as soon as possible. (I don’t know if this is accurate. Do we have to say we will delete the data or is there another way to do this)? If you believe that personal information may have been provided to us by a child under the age of 13, please contact us at…”

Shortly after Telly was contacted for comment, the company removed the section from its privacy policy.

In an email, Telly Chief Strategy Officer Dallas Lawrence said the old draft privacy policy was uploaded in error.

“The questions raised in the document between our developer team and our privacy legal counsel seem a bit out of context. The issue raised was a two-part technical issue related to timing and whether or not it was even possible for us to have this kind of data,” Lawrence said. “It was not clear to the team how much time we have to delete any data we may inadvertently capture about children under 13. The term ‘as soon as possible’ included in the draft language was felt to be vague and vague and necessary [sic] additional clarification from a technical point of view.”

Lawrence said its developers did not believe it was possible to capture personal information about children under 13, adding that minors were “not allowed to register” with Telly.

This is not the only red flag in the policy itself. According to the policy, some of the data it collects is sensitive, such as precise geolocation. The TV also collects names, email addresses, phone numbers, ages and dates of birth, zip codes, gender and ethnicity, and “sex life or sexual orientation.”

The startup says it also collects your “cultural or social identifiers,” such as which sports team you like (“Green Bay Packers fan”), what physical activities you enjoy (like “being a skateboarder”), as well as things such as if you are an “environmental activist,” the policy says.

While it may not come as a surprise that a free, ad-supported product collects massive amounts of information about its users, there are dangers in collecting this data right from the start.

Ad networks collect reams of information from a variety of sources—websites, phone apps, and ad-supported hardware—to create profiles about users that can be used to target advertising. The more ad networks collect, the more they can infer about you and the more they think they can show you exactly the ads you’re likely to click on and make money for them.

Once collected, ad data is shared and sold by data brokers, who then sell it to other companies and businesses for everything from fraud prevention to enabling surveillance. Data brokers also sell ad data to law enforcement agencies, who can buy the data instead of obtaining a warrant. The FTC recently accused data broker Kochava of selling geolocation data on “hundreds of millions” of mobile devices that could be used to track individuals’ movements to sensitive locations such as abortion clinics and places of worship.

Smart TVs are notorious data hoarders. Years ago, Vizio TVs were caught spying on customers’ viewing habits and later ordered to offer customers a way to avoid tracking. Other smart TV makers aren’t much different: Samsung collects information about what users watch on its smart TVs, data that was stolen in a data breach last year.

Especially with hardware, there is no such thing as free. If you don’t want your TV to tell the world what you’re watching and why, maybe Telly isn’t for you.

Leave a Comment