Samsung is remotely bricking smart TVs it said were looted from one of its South African warehouses amid violent unrest in the nation.
On July 8, rioting kicked off in KwaZulu-Natal, the home province of former President Jacob Zuma, as he started a 15-month stretch behind bars for contempt of court. Shopping malls and other businesses were ransacked by mobs grabbing food, electronics, and other supplies.
A few days later, on July 11, Samsung’s Cato Ridge warehouse in the province was caught up in the looting, the mega-corporation said, with smart televisions stolen from the distribution center. The violence wound down by July 18. Whoever ends up with the kit is likely in for disappointment as this month chaebol is disabling the devices as soon as they connect to the internet.
The Samsung televisions ship with a TV Block app, which connects to Samsung servers the minute an internet connection is available. The device reports its serial number and if it matches a list of missing hardware, all television functions are killed off remotely.
Normal service can be restored if you can provide a valid proof of purchase and a TV license, Samsung’s South African operation said. The manufacturing giant stressed it is only using TV Block on the kit stolen from its warehouse, and not for the other victims of South Africa’s most popular crime.
“In keeping with our values to leverage the power of technology to resolve societal challenges, we will continuously develop and expand strategic products in our consumer electronics division with defence-grade security, purpose-built, with innovative and intuitive business tools designed for a new world,” said Mike Van Lier, director of consumer electronics at Samsung South Africa.
“This technology can have a positive impact at this time, and will also be of use to both the industry and customers in the future.”
Opinion on that last sentiment will be split; this system of mass remote bricking is rife with potential for abuse. Some may be nervous that Samsung can kill any TV set it likes over the internet. Others may want stolen goods rendered essentially useless with a valid police report as it may deter thieves. It’s a veritable minefield.
Samsung was unavailable for further comment. ®