“Kodi Boxes Are a Fire Risk”: Awful Timing or Opportunism? (Updated)

Anyone who saw the pictures this week couldn’t have failed to be moved by the plight of Londoners caught up in the Grenfell Tower inferno. The apocalyptic images are likely to stay with people for years to come and the scars for those involved may never heal.

As the building continued to smolder and the death toll increased, UK tabloids provided wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster. On Thursday, however, The Sun took a short break to put out yet another sensationalized story about Kodi. Given the week’s events, it was bound to raise eyebrows.

“HOT GOODS: Kodi boxes are a fire hazard because thousands of IPTV devices nabbed by customs ‘failed UK electrical standards’,” the headline reads.

Another sensational ‘Kodi’ headline

“It’s estimated that thousands of Brits have bought so-called Kodi boxes which can be connected to telly sets to stream pay-per-view sport and films for free,” the piece continued.

“But they could be a fire hazard, according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), which has been nabbing huge deliveries of the devices as they arrive in the UK.”

As the image below shows, “Kodi box” fire hazard claims appeared next to images from other news articles about the huge London fire. While all separate stories, the pairing is not a great look.

A ‘Kodi Box’, as depicted in The Sun

FACT chief executive Kieron Sharp told The Sun that his group had uncovered two parcels of 2,000 ‘Kodi’ boxes and found that they “failed electrical safety standards”, making them potentially dangerous. While that may well be the case, the big question is all about timing.

It’s FACT’s job to reduce copyright infringement on behalf of clients such as The Premier League so it’s no surprise that they’re making a sustained effort to deter the public from buying these devices. That being said, it can’t have escaped FACT or The Sun that fire and death are extremely sensitive topics this week.

That leaves us with a few options including unfortunate opportunism or perhaps terrible timing, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a moment.

There’s a good argument that FACT and The Sun brought a valid issue to the public’s attention at a time when fire safety is on everyone’s lips. So, to give credit where it’s due, providing people with a heads-up about potentially dangerous devices is something that most people would welcome.

However, it’s difficult to offer congratulations on the PSA when the story as it appears in The Sun does nothing – absolutely nothing – to help people stay safe.

If some boxes are a risk (and that’s certainly likely given the level of Far East imports coming into the UK) which ones are dangerous? Where were they manufactured? Who sold them? What are the serial numbers? Which devices do people need to get out of their houses?

Sadly, none of these questions were answered or even addressed in the article, making it little more than scaremongering. Only making matters worse, the piece notes that it isn’t even clear how many of the seized devices are indeed a fire risk and that more tests need to be done. Is this how we should tackle such an important issue during an extremely sensitive week?

Timing and lack of useful information aside, one then has to question the terminology employed in the article.

As a piece of computer software, Kodi cannot catch fire. So, what we’re actually talking about here is small computers coming into the country without passing safety checks. The presence of Kodi on the devices – if indeed Kodi was even installed pre-import – is absolutely irrelevant.

Anti-piracy groups warning people of the dangers associated with their piracy habits is nothing new. For years, Internet users have been told that their computers will become malware infested if they share files or stream infringing content. While in some cases that may be true, there’s rarely any effort by those delivering the warnings to inform people on how to stay safe.

A classic example can be found in the numerous reports put out by the Digital Citizens Alliance in the United States. The DCA has produced several and no doubt expensive reports which claim to highlight the risks Internet users are exposed to on ‘pirate’ sites.

The DCA claims to do this in the interests of consumers but the group offers no practical advice on staying safe nor does it provide consumers with risk reduction strategies. Like many high-level ‘drug prevention’ documents shuffled around government, it could be argued that on a ‘street’ level their reports are next to useless.

Demonizing piracy is a well-worn and well-understood strategy but if warnings are to be interpreted as representing genuine concern for the welfare of people, they have to be a lot more substantial than mere scaremongering.

Anyone concerned about potentially dangerous devices can check out these useful guides from Electrical Safety First (pdf) and the Electrical Safety Council (pdf)

Update: After the publication of this article The Sun began editing its article so that it reads somewhat differently. Here’s a list of the key edits.

Key edit 1: “Thousands” of boxes has now become “a number” of boxes.

Original piece: “Thousands of ‘Internet Protocol Television’ (IPTV) boxes failed to meet the UK’s electrical safety standards when intercepted at customs, the UK’s top copyright organisation has warned.”

Edited piece: “A number of “Internet Protocol Television” (IPTV) boxes failed to meet the UK’s electrical safety, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) has warned.”

Screenshot of article segment before edit

Key edit 2: “All failed electrical safety standards” has been changed to “several devices” failed safety standards.

Original piece: “FACT’s chief executive Kieron Sharp told The Sun Online that the boxes “all failed electrical safety standards”, making them potentially dangerous.”

Edited piece: “FACT’s chief executive Kieron Sharp told The Sun Online that when tested several devices “failed electrical safety standards”, making them potentially dangerous.”

Screenshot of article segment before edit

Key edit 3: Reference to 2,000 boxes ALL failing safety standards has been completely removed.

Original piece: “[Sharp] said: ‘Our assignment uncovered two different parcels of 2,000 boxes and found that they all failed these standards’. We asked if this meant they were a fire hazard and he replied: ‘Yes.’”

Edited piece: All references to the 2,000 boxes that reportedly all failed standards has been completely removed.

Screenshot of article segment before edit

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

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