More or less every device in your home can be constantly connected to the global interconnected networks to enable some notable tools. And not just tools for consumers: device makers are finding themselves in greater control over what they sell after they’re sold. The latest example is a consignment of Samsung TVs that the company says it will remotely deactivate after being stolen from the warehouse.
“Samsung supports looting-affected retailers,” headlined Samsung’s official press release in Johannesburg, South Africa earlier this month. It explains to the television that “consumers have obtained it through illegal means,” with specific descriptions of seats stolen from the Cato Ridge Distribution Center since July. The company added that serial numbers of stolen TVs have been recorded. If any of them connect to the Internet and Samsung’s servers, they will be remotely inactive, all electronic functions will be completely blocked.
Samsung’s report states that the remote breaking tool is “preloaded on all Samsung TV products” and that the system was being installed in South Africa and “beyond its borders”. In the event of a brake error by a legitimate customer, they can submit proof of purchase to the Samsung e-mail address to restore their purchase (from a few hundred to several thousand dollars).
The implications here are troubling for consumer rights activists. What if Samsung decides that your TV is stolen and you can’t convince them otherwise? What happens if this decision is made, say, when someone sells you their fully legitimate TV in the secondary market, or you receive it as a gift and the giver does not have the special record keeping skills? While it is good for everyone to discourage thieves, it is easy to see how shutting down real customers through an over-the-counter security measure would be more annoying than a thief who suddenly finds a useless piece of glass and plastic. Gone which they did not pay anyway.
That’s all there is to it: such hyperconnected anti-theft measures are becoming increasingly commonplace. Carriers lock stolen phones, rendering them all useless (which is why it is so difficult to sell a smartphone to a pedestrian shop). Teslas and other attached cars can be remotely disabled, and even if they are marked as stolen. With tools like My Device Find on Android and My iPhone on iOS, users can lock their devices remotely.
But it’s easy to see why this control is clearly in the hands of the manufacturer, and in fact, the manufacturer said that celebrating the potential of brick tools in a press release can be frustrating. Many online commentators have already said that this will discourage them from buying Samsung televisions in the future. If you bought a Samsung TV (from a store, not from the back of a truck) and you don’t want to have a Samsung remote kill switch, you can avoid this fate by using it as a “mute” screen. Are, and never connect to the Internet to take advantage of its smart features.