This free TV has a second screen for extra ads – and it could be a privacy nightmare

Telly Dual Screen TV
(Image credit: Telly)

Newfound tech startup Telly, created by Pluto TV co-founder Ilya Pozin, is kicking off its business in a big way by offering 500,000 smart TVs for free to anyone interested.

These aren’t tiny TVs meant for the kitchen either. They're 55-inch, 4K centerpiece screens with HDR (high dynamic range) support for high-quality viewing alongside a built-in, five-driver soundbar. Powering everything is TellyOS, proprietary software enabling a variety of features like a voice assistant, music streaming, plus a Game Room housing over 40 titles. It can even do voice calls through a combination of the embedded camera and Zoom. As part of this promotion, the TV will ship with a 4K Android TV streaming stick so you can connect to your streaming platform of choice.

Having all that for free sounds like a pretty good deal, right? So what’s the catch? Well, there’s something we forget to mention and that’s the second screen.

A second screen for ads

Telly smart TV showing waves

(Image credit: Telly)

Below the soundbar, separate from everything else, is the more truncated Smart Screen, which displays a variety of informational widgets from sports scores to the local weather forecast. Off to the far right of the Smart Screen is a section dedicated to advertisements. Peeping at the initial images, the ads will be on the second display at all times except in certain cases like when people are playing something in the Game Room.

The top screen will mostly be free of commercials. Dallas Lawrence, chief strategy officer at Telly, told The Verge advertisements could extend into the other display when not in use. It depends if the advertiser wants to get a little creative. Lawrence also states the company is “working on 'Telly Rewards' that will reward users with a gift card to services… for participating in [on-screen polls]”.

So, you get a free 4K TV and all you have to put up with is an ad taking up, like, an eighth of the overall screen space. Not a bad deal even in this scenario. But as it turns out, there's more. Telly will collect information on you.

Analysis: A data collection concern

According to the official Viewing and Activity Data Policy, the company states it “may collect information [on] the audio and video content you consume” plus “the duration of your viewing sessions.” Additionally, Telly will learn “how you interact with [the display]” from search queries, the buttons you push on your remote, and even “the physical presence of you and any other individuals using the TV at any given time”. Presumably, detecting who is watching is done via the on-device camera which, as it turns out, has motion-tracking capabilities.

The motion tracking is meant for use with the TV’s fitness programs, but who's to say it can’t be used elsewhere? The camera does come with a shutter, as confirmed by Dallas Lawrence. However, it doesn’t appear the mic can be shut off, as far as we know.

It is possible to opt out of data collection as Telly offers two options. You can either A) return the TV or B) have the company charge you the cost of the setup using the “credit card on file”.

We have a few questions. 1) Will Telly include a free shipping label and box with the TV or will users have to pay for everything? 2) How much is the smart TV? The current Data Policy doesn’t list a price. However, an earlier version of the page stated the system costs $500. We reached out to Telly with these questions and more. This story will be updated if we hear back.

If you’re genuinely interested in this TV and don’t mind what may be an invasion of privacy, you can visit Telly’s website to reserve one, but you must live in the United States. It's unknown at this time if there will be an international giveaway. Shipping begins “this summer.”

Cesar Cadenas

Cesar Cadenas has been writing about the tech industry for several years now specializing in consumer electronics, entertainment devices, Windows, and the gaming industry. But he’s also passionate about smartphones, GPUs, and cybersecurity.