Samsung bricks stolen TVs with remote blocking tech

Mike Wheatley

Samsung Electronics has frustrated thieves by remotely disabling an unspecified number of its Smart TVs that were stolen from a distribution centre in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, during July’s riots.


The company announced earlier this month that it was “supporting retailers” who has their products nicked by activating what it calls “remote blocking technology” on its TVs that basically bricks them, rendering them totally useless.

The rioting kicked off in KwaZulu-Natal after South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court. Mobs, supposedly protesting in support of the ex-leader, ransacked dozens of shopping malls, warehouses and other stores during several days of looting.

Samsung later acknowledged that a number of its television products were stolen, but whoever ends up paying under the odds for one of the knocked-off sets will be left disappointed, as the South Korean firm is actively working to locate and disable them by remote as soon as they connect to the web.

The previously unrevealed TV blocking app is said to be pre-installed on every new Samsung TV. So as soon as the device connects to the web, it will report its serial number to Samsung. If that number matches with a list of stolen hardware on Samsung’s database, then the company will immediately switch off all TV functions.

Samsung’s South African branch said full functionality can be restored so long as the user can show valid proof of purchase and a TV license.

“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."

Mr. Van Lier’s sentiment may be debated by some, however. While Samsung promises the blocking technology will only ever be used when it’s clear that a TV is indeed stolen, the knowledge that the company has the ability to do this will nonetheless be disconcerting for some. It’s also not clear how safe it is. For example, what if the company gets hacked and someone manages to trigger the function and shut down all Samsung TVs worldwide? It’s not clear if that is even possible, but the fear is certainly there.

Thieves do have a workaround though. They can get around the block simply by ensuring the TV never connects to the Internet, and instead just purchase a separate streaming device to connect to whatever services they require. So the blocking tech may not be a complete deterrent to anyone that desperately wants a Samsung TV who isn’t prepared to pay for it.