Samsung Issues Update To Brick Remaining, Spontaneously Combusting Galaxy Note 7 Phones, Verizon Refuses To Pass It On

from the bomb-in-your-pocket dept

If you hadn’t been paying attention, Samsung hasn’t been having a very good year. The company was forced to recall the original Galaxy Note 7 in early September after numerous reports of spontaneous combustion. That was followed by a formal recall by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Samsung then doubled down on its incompetence, releasing an “updated” version of the phone that suffered from the exact same problem. By October Samsung was engulfed in an honest-to-goodness PR disaster as it failed to explain how it could “fix” the initial problem by somehow making things worse.

Samsung says that 93% of US-sold Note 7 devices have now been returned, which still leaves around 133,000 phones unaccounted for despite the endless media coverage of the issue. So the company last week came up with a solution: an update to the phone’s software that prevents the device from being charged (as in, ever again), effectively “bricking” the device. In a statement posted to Samsung’s website, the company said this “bold” step will begin on December 19, as the company works with carriers to finally force the issue:

“To further increase participation, a software update will be released starting on December 19th and will be distributed within 30 days. This software update will prevent U.S. Galaxy Note7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices. Together with our carrier partners, we will be notifying consumers through multiple touchpoints to encourage any remaining Galaxy Note7 owners to participate in the program and to take advantage of the financial incentives available.”

T-Mobile has said it will release the device-crippling update on December 27. AT&T confirmed it planned to release it on January 5. Sprint said it will deploy the software update to its customers on January 8. Verizon, however, posted a statement to its website stating that it wouldn’t be passing on the update to consumers for fear of ruining their holiday seasons:

“Verizon will not be taking part in this update because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note7 users that do not have another device to switch to. We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season. We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation.”

It’s kind of a strange stand by Verizon, which has long been criticized for taking longer than is reasonable to pass on necessary Android security updates. One, because users can exchange the phone at any Verizon store for free. Two, the Verizon-cited risk of not being able to make a call kind of pales in comparison to the risk of carrying around a phone that doubles as a hand grenade. After all, given the FAA has banned the phone from being taken on planes, these users are putting themselves (and potentially those around them) at risk by ignoring the recall.

It’s certainly possible that Verizon actually is being sincere here and doesn’t want people without a phone for the holidays. But it’s just as likely that Verizon’s just tired of the entire PR fracas, and doesn’t want its customers thinking that it was somehow responsible for their phones not working when the update is released. Regardless, the onus remains on customers who, for whatever reason, think it’s nifty to ignore recalls and carry around a potential fire hazard during the holidays.

Update: It looks like Verizon has just as quickly reversed course without explanation, and now says it will deploy the device-bricking update on January 7.

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Companies: samsung, verizon

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Comments on “Samsung Issues Update To Brick Remaining, Spontaneously Combusting Galaxy Note 7 Phones, Verizon Refuses To Pass It On”

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jack says:

Re: Re:

As someone who still uses there verizon note 7, I will say that verizon nor samsung have any remaining liability. I’ve been warned constantly to shut this phone down via text and notifications that show when you open the phone. If this phone burst into flames it will be entirely my fault. With that being said, I’ll proly still use it till then as it’s been a good phone, it’s free since I’ve been refunded, and I have a backup.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I’ve been hearing of electric cars for over 40 years. They’re finally a reality for the wealthy, but not yet for the average person.

A Tesla Model X will cost you $80,000 here in Canada. Most people are buying cars for under $25,000. The savings in fuel costs would get erased by financing costs.

In a couple years your response might look a bit less out of touch with reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

The reality is that there are alternatives today. In fact, many people do without a car at all. I get the impression that you’re the type that likes to tell other people what is and isn’t necessary for them, or what to or not to do. For their own good, of course, since you know better than they do what that is.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I haven’t owned a car in several years. Transit is all I currently need to commute to work. But then the kids have grown up and left home and I’m now in an apartment on a street with the best transit service in the city.

Still, I acknowledge reality: A large fraction of the population isn’t in this situation. They have no transit service at all – like my last home – or very poor transit service. Or their workplace isn’t served by transit.

And many simply have kids. Taking a couple hours off work to take a kid to an appointment becomes an entire day if you rely on transit. With a couple kids, that can be often. It also means much more groceries, impractical on transit.

Reality. You should acknowledge it some time.

Paul (profile) says:

Or they are some clueless little old lady that has no idea.

I don’t like the precedent. Whats next, You phone has a 1/100000 chance of releasing toxic materials when cracked, We are bricking it tp protect you. Your phone is last years model, who knows what could happen with such antiquated Electronics, we are bricking it.

In the meantime someone who brought a dud now gets the additional punishment of having it rendered useless, when they may not know or be eligible for any recompense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It depends on what your idea of a clueless little old lady is. Plenty of grandparents in their 60s and 70s have smartphones. Even if they aren’t up to things like email, social media, the internet, and app; the phone, texting, and video/camera functions make it more than worthwhile. Easy to keep in contact with the kids. Easy to get sent pictures of the grandkids. Easy to take pictures or video to show off later. The larger phone with the bigger screen would probably be more popular with them, with their eyesight not what it’d used to be.

And just because they have the phone, doesn’t mean they follow any of the news where the recall would be mentioned.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In the meantime someone who brought a dud now gets the additional punishment of having it rendered useless, when they may not know or be eligible for any recompense.

That’s the whole point of this update. People who don’t realise they are eligible for recompense can take the phone back to the store and get recompense. Everyone who owns the phone is eligible for recompense, because the phone is under recall.

The only people being punished are those people who are putting other people at risk by keeping a phone that may burst into flames.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find the line of reasoning odd… the update disables charging, and I presume also displays a note saying what’s happening. This gives plenty of time for customers to get a replacement phone.

Meanwhile, anyone traveling with a Note 7 will have it confiscated if they plan to travel by air; seems to me this is a worse situation than having it refuse to charge.

crade (profile) says:

In other words, you do not own any of your phones at all. You are just using it for as long as samsung chooses to allow you to. Don’t worry, you can (have to) put your faith in them that they won’t take it away unless they really feel it’s necessary. If you don’t like it, you should have thought about that before you thought you bought the phone.

Extreme cases make for bad precedent.

Anonymous Coward says:

what will probably be posted online by Samsung after this mess has passed.

The exploding phone was a feature that Samsung designed for the government to aid their spy program. You know have a deadly device appear as a benign object.

Unfortunately the design for the government was mixed in with the general consumer design specs because of a lack of communication due to some NSLs that we had received.

We won’t say we are sorry because of the recent results of the court case rolling stones vs. UVA. Also we know that within a few days this post will be censored because it looks bad on use and the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m with Verizon on blocking the updates, though I don’t necessarily agree with their reasons.

Today, Samsung is bricking phones for safety because they might explode.
Tomorrow, Samsung is bricking phones because there’s a critical security issue in software and they can’t be bothered updating it.
Next week, Samsung is bricking phones because it’s been two years and they want you to buy a new one.

Very surprising TechDirt didn’t touch on the precedent this sets.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You don't really own what you own

Ok, I concede that it’s possible to complain about an OTA update bricking a device and the lack of control over the things you own without actually wanting to own said device.

But at that point, isn’t the story basically “Old man yells at cloud”?

I mean, seriously: “I yearn for the good old days, when the faulty devices we owned were OUR faulty devices, and we had to check the back of the paper every day if we cared to find out if it had been recalled yet”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You don't really own what you own

You either own your devices or you don’t.

Having one’s device made inoperable because of public safety concerns and having one’s device made inoperable because Samsung don’t like your face are both accomplished by the same "Samsung own and control the device you paid for, have title to and responsibility for" mechanism.

Like it nor not, these are the kind of "think of the children!" compulsory, public safety updates that will be used to argue that you should not be allowed to update your not-owned devices with whatever software you choose to put onto them.

In much the same way that Techdirt’s traffic stop stories are all about protecting the rights of drivers who were searched illegally but who really did have ten kilos of cocaine hidden in the doors of their car, sometimes we also have to argue that people have to be allowed to retain ownership and functionality of devices that are known to unexpectedly explode because they are their devices.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: You don't really own what you own

I don’t think you meant that way but nobody here seems to be worried that Samsung/Verizon/whoever can brick your gadget at will. Of course this is on par with things like Microsoft being downright obnoxious with the ‘get windows 10’ shoved down the users collective throats via updates.

I don’t know, this is worrying for me.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Slippery slope?

Come on, folks. There are currently one hundred thousand phones unaccounted for that could burn down homes and injure people, and you’re calling foul on Samsung trying to prevent that?

If they start actually treading the slippery slope, that’s plenty of time to bring out the pitchforks and disable phone updates.

For those of you who think it’s your god-given right to own items that could hurt other people or burn down the building, I feel sorry for anyone who ever shares an apartment building with you. Please go live in the desert where you can’t hurt anyone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Regardless, the onus remains on customers who, for whatever reason, think it’s nifty to ignore recalls and carry around a potential fire hazard during the holidays.

I drive around in a potential fire hazard.
I blow-dry my hair with a potential electrical hazard.
When I go on holiday, I fly in a potential building-collapse agent. (Or more realistically, a potential flaming-debris field.)
Hell, when I drink, I potentially suffer debilitating heavy-metal poisoning.

Fewer than a thousand of the about 2 million phones have caught fire. Possibly fewer than 200.

Everyone chooses the level of risk they are willing to accept. For some, that means hanging on to a phone that others consider unwise.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

TD missed the boat

TD usually opines that once a device is purchased the user should be its owner, not empowered nor disempowered by software updates from the manufacturer.

And yet… “the onus remains on customers who, for whatever reason, think it’s nifty to ignore recalls and carry around a potential fire hazard during the holidays.”

No. The onus doesn’t. Nifty doesn’t mean what you think it means.

These people bought hardware and they intend to use it. Apparently the “sweet sweet offers” aren’t so sweet so that 133,000 devices are still out there.

Stop blaming the “victims” and stop suggesting that the mfg gets to brick devices. The problem isn’t the users/victims.

Clue. By. Four.


Ninja (profile) says:

Re: TD missed the boat

What if it was a car that had the same risk of failing and causing a catastrophic accident but the car maker could disable the cars remotely if people didn’t turn in for a recall? Would it be fair?

I do agree with the update issue. The fact that they can disable the device via updates is worrying. Sure if they start using such ‘power’ without care they’ll lose trust from people but this kind of power may be abused by, let’s say, Governments. It’s a legitimate worry but the ‘victim blaming’ you are referring is nothing like that. These people should have returned their devices already and they are morons for not doing so given the exposure the issue had.

me says:

notify and replace for free

Verizon should:
1. send a notification to all remaining Galaxy Note 7 owners that their phone has been recalled and that they need to return it to the Verizon store immediately

2. replace the returned Galaxy Note 7s on the spot as soon as the users return the phones

3. FIXED: no one is without a phone because they’re replaced on the spot & users are not paying any money for their free replacement phones

Anonymous Coward says:

Alternate explanation

Techdirt notes that Verizon has a reputation for not passing on security updates in a timely manner. Perhaps this is just more of the same: their internal process for passing updates is such a pain that they hate doing updates, and try their best not to do any that are not obligated by law (or by lawyers screaming of liability). Since neither of those reasons obligates them here, they are declining to do the update, then using the quoted PR statement as a nice-sounding justification for their inaction. It is much easier to issue a PR statement, especially one that on the surface sounds so altruistic, than to do the work of actually issuing the update.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Panic Attack

I really like the party line buy-in that, "EVERY SAMSUNG NOTE 7 WILL EXPLODE IN FIFTEEN SECONDS…TICK…TICK…TICK…!!!"

Yes, Samsung had a problem. But it was "dozens of phones" out of 2.5 million. "Dozens" is a bit nebulous but, if it is still the correct term, then probably not over a gross (144). On that basis the chances of a Note 7 failing are 1-in-17360, about the same as that of your dying next year in an automobile accident.

Oooo…and there’s 133,000 of those Note bombs still out there, "…ANOTHER EIGHT MIGHT EXPLODE!!!"

Sigh. Way overblown.

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