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HomeTechTelly, the "free" ad-supported smart TV, has privacy policy red flags

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


Yesterday we watched a new hardware startup called Telly give away half a million of its new smart TVs for free. The catch is that the 55-inch smart television is equipped with a second screen that sits below it and displays advertisements while you watch your favorite shows.

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

According to its privacy policy, the startup collects data about what you watch, where you are, what you watch, and what can be gleaned about you from that information.

But privacy policy annotations that have been published in error raise concerns about data practices. As first noted by journalist Shoshana Wodinsky:

We’ve pasted Telly’s section below privacy policy verbatim, including typos, as it was published at the time – and marked the questionable passage in in bold to emphasize:

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

Shortly after reaching out to Telly for comment, the company removed the section from its privacy policy.

In an email, Dallas Lawrence, Telly’s chief strategy officer, said an old draft of the privacy policy had been accidentally uploaded.

“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-pronged technical question related to timing and whether or not it was possible for us to be in possession of this kind of data,” Lawrence said. “The team didn’t know how much time we had to delete any data we might inadvertently record about children under the age of 13. The term ‘as soon as possible’ included in the draft language seemed vague and indeterminate and (sic) needed further clarification from a technical perspective.”

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

It’s not the only red flag in the policy itself. According to the policy, some of the data collected is sensitive, such as precise geolocation. The television 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 what sports team you might like (“a Green Bay Packers fan”), what physical activities you enjoy (like “being a skateboarder”), but things like if you are ‘an environmental activist’ are also included in the policy.

While it may not be surprising that a free ad-supported product collects massive amounts of information about its users, there are dangers associated with collecting this data to begin with.

Ad networks collect masses of information from various sources – websites, phone apps and ad-supported hardware – to build profiles about users that can be used for targeted advertising. The more ad networks collect, the more they can deduce about you, and the more they think they can accurately show you ads that you are likely to click on and make money from.

Once data is collected, advertising data is shared and sold by data brokers, who then resell it to other companies and companies for whatever from fraud prevention Unpleasant enable supervision. Data brokers also sell advertising data to law enforcement, who can buy the data instead of getting a warrant. The FTC recently accused data broker Kochava of selling geolocation data on “hundreds of millions” of mobile devices, which can be used to track individuals’ movements to sensitive locations, such as abortion clinics and places of worship.

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

Especially with hardware, there is no such thing as free. If you don’t want your television telling the world what you’re watching and why, Telly might not be for you.

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