What the New Ads on Nvidia Shield TV Mean for Consumers

The ads appear on the Shield TV’s home screen and take up roughly the top half of the screen. (The space now occupied by ads was previously blank.) There are several ads that automatically loop. If you scroll up using your remote control to select an ad, it expands to take up almost the entire screen. 

Once the ads started appearing, I quickly went online to see what other Shield TV owners were saying about the change. Hundreds of unhappy comments were being posted on social media platforms such as Reddit, with some users showing the 1-star ratings for the Android TV software they had left on the Google Play app store, a tactic called “review bombing.”

The several Shield TV owners I spoke with expressed frustration and anger. “I feel gutted. I didn’t pay to be advertised to for things I don’t even care for,” said Nicholas Wallace, a Shield TV owner I met through Reddit. “I really don’t want to see Miley Cyrus’s head every time I turn my TV on.”

An Nvidia spokesperson says that it is monitoring feedback like Wallace’s, and encourages people to leave additional feedback on its official Shield TV forum and the official Android TV community page.

Still, the software update touches on a growing question for consumers, Mahoney says: Do you fully own the digital products you buy, or can the manufacturers change the products later, adding or deleting features without your permission? 

In one well-known example of that phenomenon, the owners of HP printers woke up one day several years ago to find that the company had disabled the third-party printer ink cartridges many of them had been using.  In another instance, Google bought the company that made the Revolv smart home platform, then bricked the devices remotely.

Nvidia is best known for its high-end graphics cards, which are used in powerful gaming PCs. To be fair, the company never marketed the Shield TV as an ad-free device—but digital rights advocates frequently point out that nondigital products don’t get altered without their owners’ permission, regardless of their marketing messages. KitchenAid doesn’t sneak into your kitchen and shorten the power cord on a food processor you’ve been using. If you buy shelves at Lowe’s, no guy shows up a year later to paint Black+Decker ads on them. It’s only with digital products like the Shield TV that manufacturers unilaterally change user interfaces and basic functionality on products that are already paid for and sitting in people’s homes.

“It’s pure Darth Vader,” says Cory Doctorow, an author and longtime digital rights activist, who has written extensively about issues such as digital rights management, the right to repair, and the abuse of monopoly power. “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”