When it comes to so-called smart gadgets, owning just isn’t what it used to be.
Samsung made that clear earlier this month when it told customers that it can, at any time, remotely disable any and every Samsung TV connected to the internet. The Aug. 6 announcement came in response to the theft of an unspecified number of TVs in South Africa in July, and was likely the first time many customers had ever heard of Samsung’s TV Block Function.
The feature allows Samsung to remotely check if “TV units have been unduly activated,” and “is already pre-loaded on all Samsung TV products.” Apparently “looted” TVs fall into the category of undue activation.
If TV Block gets a hit on an internet-connected Samsung TV’s serial number that it decides shouldn’t be up and running, then Samsung can remotely disable that television. Notably, an internet connection — and the customer surveillance that entails — is a core part of modern smart TVs.
We reached out to Samsung to determine how many TVs it has remotely disabled with TV Block, but received no immediate response.
The company seems proud of itself, however, and made an effort to share its previously little-known ability on Twitter. The responses were less than enthusiastic.
“You can remotely brick my TV? Will definitely not buy Samsung again, and will keep my current TV offline too,” read one such reply.
“Not buying a Samsung TV,” read another. “Thanks for the heads up!”
According to the August 6 statement, “The aim of the technology is to mitigate against the creation of secondary markets linked to the sale of illegal goods, both in South Africa and beyond its borders.”
We asked Samsung about concerns from paying customers on social media regarding TV Block, specifically the possibility that the company might remotely disable a customer’s television by mistake. Again, we received no immediate response.
Samsung does however partially address this scenario in a statement, but its solution sounds like quite the pain.
“Should a customer’s TV be incorrectly blocked, the functionality can be reinstated once proof of purchase and a valid TV license is shared with a legitimate retailer.”
The statement makes no mention of any sort of compensation for customers who have to go through this ordeal.
Samsung’s boast — that it can reach into its customers’ home and, should it so choose, claw back what they’ve purchased — will sound familiar to anyone following trends in the world of “smart” gadgets.
Samsung’s ability to remotely disable all of its customers’ TVs is only one facet of the ongoing debate around company control over internet-of-things gadgets. Another (and it’s one that Sonos customers will likely recognize) is that company after company has made the decision to end support for old smart gadgets that are no longer profitable, rendering legitimately purchased and functioning items unusable.
Because these days, buying an internet-connected smart appliance doesn’t make it yours. It just means you have until the manufacturer changes its mind.
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