The dystopian corporate dominated future may have taken a step closer, as a startup called Telly promises a free 55 inch 4K TV with a catch — a second screen beneath the main one that displays adverts. The viewers definitely aren’t the customers but the product, and will no doubt have every possible piece of data that can be harvested from them sold to the highest bidder. There’s even a microphone and camera pointed at the viewer, to complete the 1984 experience. In a sense it’s nothing new, as certain TV manufacturers have been trying to slip adverts into the interfaces on their paid-for smart TVs for years.
Oddly we’re not convinced though, that the eventual outcome of this will be as sinister as readers might expect. Indeed if the past is anything to go by, it could even herald an eventual bonanza of 4K screens for hardware hackers. To explain why, we have to travel back to the late 1990s, when free hardware for adverts startups were last tried. Back then there were a spate of companies using the same model of free or super-cheap hardware, and without exception they ran into the fundamental problem that people who rely on a free product in exchange for adverts aren’t generally high value consumers who can bring in the revenue to support buying a ton of consumer electronics. The “free” hardware from several of these startups then found its way onto the surplus market — or in the case of CueCat barcode scanners, directly into the hands of hardware hackers, and was repurposed for use in the way our community knows best.
So yes. Telly represents all that’s wrong for the privacy of viewers about the current media landscape. But who knows, it might just spawn a hacking scene all of its own. As a final note we think that they’ll have an interesting time protecting their brand name if they ever enter the British market, where “telly” has been slang for television ever since the technology entered the mainstream.
65 thoughts on “A Free TV With A Catch: New Normal Or Inevitable Hardware Bonanza?”
reminds me of this:
I’d just disconnect the screen header from the second screen, and some lenses and some paint could fool the viewer sensors. Or, you know , I could not just sign up for that crap.
now this comment is a hack !
Ow! My balls!
Brought to you by Carls Jr.
Yeah, another comedy turned documentary.
Did you just paste a whole jpg into a comment when that image is hosted all over the place and links are clickable? Chad move
Hack was my first thought. Then I read the fine print. You have to give them a credit card to get one. And then if is is not online continuously, they charge your credit card to buy it. Maybe $1000? That is their suggested retail price. Of course that is going to cause ENDLESS disputes with the credit card companies as people discover this gotcha. If you want to stop using it, you have to ship it back to them yourself.
I wonder how many cameras and microphones it has in it. I wonder if they have a way to know if you simply covered the screen with something. This thing seems like alot of trouble for a free tv. I like that short height super wide lcd at the bottom though, maybe we’ll start seeing those on aliexpress.
I suspect this company isn’t big enough to source a custom-size panel, and the part was already in production (maybe for a car dashboard?). So, you might get lucky on Aliexpress!
Although, this smells like a purely financial scheme, where the only real customers are the investors, and the hardware – if it ever exists – is just part of the show. So maybe it /will/ have an insane bill of materials, like Juicero.
Search the internet for “48 inch bar lcd”
Presumably you could spoof it in some way, but that might eventually cross over into actual fraud.
Is it immoral to steal from an theif?
No, but a long time ago we decided not all laws need to be moral.
They’re giving you a free TV, it’s not the most evil thing anyone’s ever done.
They’re giving you a free TV with a microphone and camera that are always switched on and uploading. We could debate whether it’s “evil” but it does seem pretty creepy.
Is revenge justice?
The trick is to hack it before you plug it in/turn it on/accept the EULA.
I can see that going wrong as they gain a reputation for hitting low-income consumers with unexpected monster bills because their cable internet subscription lapsed.
Get one of those VISA gift cards, drain it, and give them the details of that. Looks like a credit card, but isn’t.
Downside is the activation fee (and expiry, I suppose).
→ One-use credit card numbers
It is certainly a weird time with TV’s.
20 years ago, CRTs were a scarce commodity. Getting a 20″ 1280×1024 display was hundreds of dollars, and weighed a hundred pounds. It didn’t have a tuner maybe one input type (VGA). It maybe lasted 10 years, and probably needed fiddling towards the end of life.
Today, go to an estate (tag) sale, industrial auction, craigslist, etc and it is hard to find a “TV” under 24″, and it will be $10-100 for a HD display (double that for 4k) more inputs than you can imagine including a tuner, and weighs about 10 pounds (larger weighs more since they add weights to the base). There are dozens for sale, and people are anxious to get rid of them.
Plug in a computer, game or TV box and it displays wonderful quality pictures for years.
TV manufacturers have been reducing the number and types of inputs on TVs for years. S-Video and component have gone buh-bye. More than two HDMI inputs isn’t common these days. But many still have the crappy old composite video and analog stereo RCA jacks, or use a 3.5mm cable to hook that up.
Bring back toslink.
It’s surprising how many TVs still have optical.
And update it to hold all the data, not just audio. One small cable to rule them all.
Wonderful quality in theory, they are always stuck on store mode so people look like clay figures due to poor skin tone.
Also now come with built in Android etc so always out of date and slow ☹️.
Many settings are not available. Any 60fps content on mine with fine high contrast areas causes bad flicker. Boooo. No way I find to fix it yet. I don’t want 60fps streaming anyway, waste of bandwidth, but no option for that either.
Old content looks terrible on giant LCD screens, until CRT emulation improves, perhaps Vulkan adoption (thank you Valve!) Will spur the ability to add these effects systemwide?
A better product name would be “Teleskreen”, a one letter alteration of the name of the similar device in Orwell’s “1984”. I wonder if this one has a “power” button?
They probably know how the free-PC ended and they probably have an unenforceable EULA with all sorts of clauses to protect themselves.
Probable anti-tampering measures have to be bypassed before first start. Bypassing the screen and the camera may be trivial, but I don’t know for the microphone. It could use all sorts of new tech just to prevent bypassing.
I wonder what happens when it, by mischance, breaks. Maybe if the ad screen is the only one to break.
However, the market is probably not hackers, but “the type of people that voluntarily watch ads”. They don’t care about ads, they like personnalized recommandations… After all, It takes all sorts in the world !
Or maybe this business already dead, and they know it, but they convinced rich morons, I mean their investors, to lend hundred of millions. They don’t care because they aren’t responsible and while that lasts, they can pay their bills.
As the “customer” didn’t buy the TV, I think the EULA will be very much enforceable. You’d be in the same trouble as when selling off a leased or rented car, with a sprinkle of DMCA to spice it up. Same for the one-time-use credit card trick suggested further up.
Feels like time to watch Max Headroom again… I’m surprised by its prescience every time I watch it.
“Telly” isn’t just British slang for a television set, but is also the name of the ubiquitous devices in people’s homes in George Orwell’s book, ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’.
Telly isn’t just a haunted goldfish bowl, it is also Big Brother’s spy in your life.
“Telly isn’t just a haunted goldfish bowl, it is also Big Brother’s spy in your life.”
Good news. Some people’s lives are so boring the watcher may just die from it.
Fortunately (for the watcher) in this day and age, they won’t be live in the first place, just an AI reporting to another AI. Orwell never predicted one day you’d need 0 actual watchers per million citizens to watch them all.
And what was George Orwell’s nationality…?
Eric Blair was born in England
I tried signing up for this, hoping to just disconnect the free 55″ TV from the bullshit, but I think if you’re “not using Telly” then keeping the hardware violates the ToS. If the Telly gods ever deign to give me one then maybe I can get help from the HaD community.
I think that the company will quickly realize that the two screens have more value separately than bundled together, unless the harvested data is worth much more than I imagine.
Having adverts on 100% of the time, even when not watching TV apparently really isn’t going to fly – the world in general and customers that might actually buy into a ‘free’ TV don’t want to pay for all that wasted electricity, or internet data costs, even if most of them are entirely unbothered by being the product.
Also seems likes a really stupid idea, as decent enough screens are not actually expensive any more, even in that size. Which is a size too big for most folks to really fit in their houses I’d suggest even before you added that extra screen underneath… It would have to be practically magic levels of screen tech to be worth taking one, and for most folks that pro artist level of quality probably wouldn’t even be noticed without a side by side comparison, as even the budget screens are pretty good now and the significant limiting factor to quality is much more likely to be the quality of compression used by their streaming service, the limited performance of their game console etc than the screen itself.
I’m gonna take a wild-ass guess and say that most of the readers here are reasonably far away from living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying to keep up with the Jones’s…
Rent-a-Center is a thriving business in low-income communities. These guys won’t even have to try – Have a credit card? Free TV!
. . . And their credit provider, which is more than likely secured (as nobody dumb enough to fall for this isn’t on a second-chance deal to begin with), will be more than happy to pay it off when they violate the TOS.
Beautiful business model. Soulless, but efficient.
“And their credit provider, which is more than likely secured”
Translation: US tax payer will somehow pay for it.
Like “obama phones”, and subsidizing “students” going on spring break to party (while they demand “student loan forgiveness”)
Translation: Politics Spewing Bot
No, they’re secured by actual money deposited by the user, not by taxes, as poor-credit consumers don’t qualify for actual “credit” cards, only ones secured by deposit.
Not a beautiful business model. It only works when the viewers are affluent consumers who buy all the stuff in the advertisments.
Maybe history will defeat itself.
Remember FreePC? It was a thing, briefly, at the end of the last millennium, right before Y2K pooped the biggest excuse for a party in a thousand years. This may help: https://www.wired.com/1999/02/a-free-pc-gimme/
As it happened, I had good friends who got one of those free PCs, and put up with the intrusive bullshit until the company died and the intrusions could be defeated. I think that was the idea, actually.
Meanwhile, negative demand for advertising has been well advertised by both ad blocking (the biggest boycott in human history already by 2015 — http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2015/09/28/beyond-ad-blocking-the-biggest-boycott-in-human-history/ ) and subscription “prestige” TV.
But the advertising business, in the mines of which I toiled for too much of my adult life, has always been high smoking its own exhaust, and blowing the same at gullible funders. (Yeah, some advertising works, but people still hate it on the receiving end, especially when there are N x X potential ways for Demand to Inform supply, securely and safely, in the digital world, when we take off the blinders of habit and Business as Usual.
The fun will come when our own personal AI bots, working for our own asses, doing battle with the robot Nazgûls of marketing — and win, because we’re the Demand side of the fucking marketplace, and we’ll do a better job of knowing what we do and don’t want to buy or hire than marketing, even fed by surveillant LLMs, can guess at. Supply will survive, of course. But markets will defeat marketing.
Yeah, it’ll take awhile, but so what. Hacking it will be fun.
Is it $1 a day payback so 3 year contract?
This is like raising gas prices to deter vehicle and home heating. A tax on the poor.
Who in their right mind watches TV in 2023 ?
Problem is.. streaming will become the norm and they will make it increasingly difficult to avoid the associated adverts.
Hardly a problem for me. I have my computer and youtube, that’s all entertainment I need.
All those who are frustrated by the way streaming services make it difficult to search the available movies and series. I find it extremely difficult to find what is available on the various services. If I’m paying for something, I’d like to know what I can get for my money.
I tried Netflix and canceled it after a month – too frustrating to use. I’m not inclined to try other services, since I can’t find out before hand what’s available and what the search functions are like.
I just continue channel surfing for free – I still don’t know what’s coming, but at least I don’t have to shell out for it.
*shrug* I don’t have a TV or TV subscription, I don’t do streaming services either.
I think the better approach is to find what you want to watch and then figure out where to watch it. Looking up shows and movies on JustWatch.com will tell you what’s available where once you know what you want to watch.
The Rokus we use are pretty handy- with pushbutton activated voice search (so it isn’t always listening), you can instantly find what you’re looking for and a list of the different free or paid services where you can view it.
Simple microphone by-pass – hot melt glue pumped over it, blu-tak, superglue… that’s if you can’t just rip the damn thing off the motherboard.
Ditto for the camera. But obviously if you’re going to get that destructive, you better buy the telly first! XD
Start a credit card, get this, cancel the card, hack the device, what are they gonna do, sue you?
(I read through their terms of service (which I’ll add was filled with typos and not well written at all, im sure any good lawyer could rip it apart), they say you’re required to use the device as your main tv and have it connected to the internet, if you break the terms of service you have to send the tv back and if you don’t they’ll charge you for the tv. Your internet can go out for “short periods”, they don’t define how long)
this kind of unpaid consumer debt goes through a process. generally, they sell the debt (their claim against you) to a third party for pennies on the dollar. a collection agency. they then do things like harass you on the telephone and harass you by mail and harass your family and, in some cases, take you to court. somewhere in there, it winds up on your credit report, making it harder for you to get new loans.
if they do go to court, they won’t bring a good lawyer. they’ll have probably some lawyer fresh out of a no-name law school desperately trying to get a job to pay off their monstrous loans, and they have them working dozens of cases at once. they’ll be sending boilerplate filings with the details wrong. any good lawyer *could* rip this process apart. but the thing is, if you bring a good lawyer to a collections proceeding then you probably just spent more money on your lawyer than they’re trying to collect.
imo, not worth it for a telly :)
You forgot to mention, they add “collection/legal fees” to the debt you owe to the point that a hundred bucks can turn into ten thousand. That’s the point where you have to bring in the good lawyer.
Probably would have the YouTube approach: pauses the TV feed every 30 seconds while the lower screen plays an ad.
My guess would be, that their target customers are greedy AirBnB landlords and cheap motels.
This way, they can advertise that their rooms have big 4k TVs, but it costs them nothing. They’ll just hide Telly’s ToS inside their own fineprint, and most customers won’t notice or care.
As Telly knows where the TVs are, they can sell ad space targeted to tourists.
Comparatively, there are some streaming apps that will give you content on “practically free” hardware, basically anything that runs Android 4 and higher, windows 7 and higher. PlutoTV is my favorite for the mental chewing gum, make the silence less loud, kind, with some classics I also actually like to watch, then there’s some free content on Tubi and Plex, and specific antenna TV channels have their own good apps, like CBC’s gem and others.
Do the terms of service specify whether I can put my plant pots on the shelf below? Or is there a paragraph against tossing underwear just so it covers the second screen?
I sure hope they come out with this. I’d love some free 4K TV’s. I doubt it will happen though. The possible ‘hacks’ to disable the advertising screen are laughable. Crack it, cover it, remove it, cut the backlight wire, tape over the camera, don’t connect to Internet etc. If stuff needs to work for the TV to work, there WILL be hacks in 24 hours of release. For everyone else, a mirror directing the advertisements to the camera will easily simulate activity while blocking the advertisements.
Worst case, if the hacking scene sucks for this, I’ll just print a cover to go over the advertising screen and camera and have a free TV
“…people who rely on a free product in exchange for adverts aren’t generally high value consumers…”
What kind of nonsense world do you live in?
Our entire global economic system is built around keeping poor people poor. (With a vigorous splash of racism.)
Predatory debt transfers?
Our system THRIVES on taking money from poor people.
You also fail to realize that “Marketing” is actually “Manipulating people and opinions”.
It is USUALLY about tricking someone into buying something.
But it isn’t ALWAYS about that.
The “prank” images telling people they could skip the wait at the voting booth by texting their vote to [number], that were served to the highly specific “target market” of…
50 plus years old
[Registered to Specific Political Group]
Unlikely to watch [specific news stations]
Less-than-average computer/technical skills
Lives in [Specific Voting Area]
(You can connect the dots on what this was REALLY for. The claim that it was “Just a prank” is nonsense.)
That’s the kind of thing modern “marketing” tools are designed to do.
Show your “thing” to a highly specific group of people.
I’ve put up ADs using Google AD Sense during an engagement that were SO specific that I knew with certainty that the only people seeing it were my target. That told me exactly when, and from where they were responding to something.
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