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Telly, the “free” smart TV with ads, raises privacy concerns

Yesterday, we looked at Telly, a new hardware startup giving away half a million smart TVs. The 55-inch smart TV has a second display that shows ads while you watch.

This new startup collects massive amounts of data about you in exchange for a free TV because ads pay for it.

The startup collects data on what you view, where you are, what you watch, and what can be inferred about you, according to its privacy policy.

However, inadvertent privacy policy annotations raise data privacy concerns. Shoshana Wodinsky reported:

We’ve pasted Telly’s privacy policy, with typos, below and bolded the questionable passage:

“As noted in the Terms of Use, we do not knowingly collect or solicitPersonal Data about children under 13 years of age; ifyou are a child under the age of 13, please do not attempt to register for orotherwise use the Services or send us any Personal Data. Use of the Servicesmay capture the physical presence of a child under the age of 13, but noPersonal Data about the child is collected. If we learn we have collectedPersonal Data from a child under 13 years of age, we will delete thatinformation as quickly as possible. (I don’t know that this is accurate. Do wehave to say we will delete the information or is there another way aroundthis)? If you believe that a child under 13 years of age may have providedPersonal Data to us, please contact us at…”

Telly removed the privacy policy section after being contacted for comment.

Telly chief strategy officer Dallas Lawrence emailed that an old privacy policy draft was uploaded by mistake.

“The questions in the document between our developer team and our privacy legal counsel seem out of context. Lawrence said the issue raised was a two-part technical question about timing and whether we could even have this kind of data. The team wasn’t sure how long we had to delete any data we accidentally collected on children under 13. “Quickly as possible” in the draft language was unclear and needed technical clarification.

Lawrence said Telly “not allowed to register” minors because its developers didn’t think it could capture personal data on children under 13.

The policy has other red flags. The policy protects sensitive data like precise geolocation. After this article was published, Telly removed “sex life or sexual orientation” from the list of information it collects.

According to its policy, the startup collects your “cultural or social identifiers,” such as your favorite sports team (“a Green Bay Packers fan”), your favorite physical activity (“being a skateboarder”), and your environmental activism.

It’s not surprising that a free, ad-supported product collects a lot of user data, but collecting it is risky.

Ad networks build user profiles from websites, phone apps, and ad-supported hardware to target ads. Ad networks collect data to infer more about you and serve ads they think you’ll click on and make them money.

Data brokers sell ads data to other companies for fraud prevention and surveillance. Law enforcement can buy ads data from data brokers without a warrant. The FTC accused Kochava of selling geolocation data on “hundreds of millions” of mobile devices, which could be used to track people to sensitive locations like abortion clinics and churches.

Smart TVs collect data. Years ago, Vizio televisions were caught spying on customer viewing habits and ordered to offer an opt-out option. Smart TV manufacturers are similar: Last year’s data breach exposed Samsung’s smart TV users’ viewing habits.

Hardware is never free. Telly broadcasts what you watch and why, so it may not be for you.

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