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Samsung promises to remove stolen TVs remotely

Having more or less all the appliances in your home constantly connected to global interconnected networks can enable some remarkable tools. And not just tools for the consumer: Device manufacturers are finding themselves able to exercise more and more control over the things they sell after the sale is made. The latest example is a series of Samsung TVs, which the company says they will disable remotely after being stolen from a warehouse.

“Samsung supports dealers affected by looting,” reads the headline at the top of Samsung’s official press release in Johannesburg, South Africa earlier this month. It describes television “obtained by users illegally”

;, with a specific mention of devices stolen from the Cato Ridge Distribution Center since July. The company went on to say that the serial numbers of the stolen TVs were registered. If any of them connect to the internet and to Samsung’s servers, they will be disabled remotely, all electronic features completely blocked.

Samsung’s report states that this remote masonry tool is “pre-installed on all Samsung TV products”, and that this system was put in place in South Africa and “outside the borders”. In the event that a legitimate customer is accidentally bricked, they can send a proof of purchase to a Samsung email address to have the purchase (ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars) recovered.

The implication here is disturbing for customer rights activists. What if Samsung decides that your TV has been stolen and you can not convince them otherwise? What if that decision is made, say, after someone has sold you their completely legitimate TV on a second-hand market, or you received it as a gift and the donor does not have particularly good record-keeping skills? While deterring thieves is a good thing, it’s easy to see how real customers who are shut down by an eager security measure would be much more upset than a burglar who has suddenly been given a useless lump of glass and plastic that they did not pay for anyway.

All that being said: this type of hyper-connected theft measure is fast becoming the norm instead of the exception. Carriers unlock stolen phones, making them all but useless (which is why it is very difficult to sell a smartphone to a pawnbroker). Tesla and other connected cars can be deactivated remotely and even located if they are marked as stolen. With tools like Find My Device on Android and Find My iPhone on iOS, users can even lock their own devices remotely.

But it’s easy to understand why having this control so explicitly in the hands of the manufacturer, and in fact saying that the manufacturer is celebrating its ability to draw devices in a press release, can be disruptive. Many online commentators have already said that this will deter them from buying a Samsung TV in the future. If you bought a Samsung TV (from a store, not the back of a truck) and you are not concerned about Samsung having a remote switch, you can avoid this fate by using it as a “stupid” screen, and Never connect it to the internet to take advantage of the smart features.

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