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This piece was originally written for me for publication on Gizmodo UK - a site that no longer exists. As such, with the site wiped from the internet, I assume there's no harm in republishing, but if any rights holders disagree, then please do get in touch. Back in 2016 I attended the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in London. I remember it because I was pulled out of the queue, frisked and had my bag searched. It’s something of an irony that while there were no explosives about my person, there were about 30 on the show floor just 50 yards away.

You probably haven’t thought of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in a while. Samsung would certainly rather you didn’t after the handset was found to be significantly more likely to explode than is ideal for something that’s designed to be stored in the pocket, at a genital-adjacent level. The fireproof return box alone should have made things pretty clear that Samsung wasn’t playing around.

And yet as recently as July last year, people were still using the Note 7 as if it had never featured on a list of things you can’t take on aeroplanes, along with tear gas devices, fireworks and radioactive materials.

But now the Note 7 is 29 months old, and any contractual obligations have long been paid off. Could I buy a Note 7 today if I felt like it?

Yes. Apparently I can.

No, that isn’t the explosion-free Fan Edition. As the description says: “brand new but have noticed from Samsung about battery so can charge just till 60%” – a patch Samsung sent through to make the phone less dangerous. As you can also see, the seller is looking to get out of the flammable phablet market and considering a sidestep into quad bikes. Presumably without a helmet and with a cigarette lighter built in next to the fuel tank for added convenience.

Another person on Facebook marketplace had one for sale, describing it as an “unwanted Christmas present”, which raises all kinds of questions. Mainly, outside of a Warner Brothers cartoon, what kind of friend buys you a Christmas present that might explode?

Unfortunately, neither seller responded to my messages, which is hardly surprising. If you’re trying to sell something online, timewasters are simply the worst, and what could be more time wasting than someone chatting to you about the Note 7 in 2019?

If time wasting was my aim, I had to go to the source. Hello reddit. The Note 7 return refuseniks Yes, there are still people posting on the r/note7 and r/galaxynote7 subreddits. Not many, granted, but I got in touch with a handful I identified as still owning, or having recently sold the handset to ask them “what the hell, man, what the hell.” Albeit not in those exact words.

“Yes, I still use it everyday,” computerman10367 wrote back on his Note 7. “I was going to trade it in but I liked the phone so much I decided to keep it.

Why these users ended up keeping their Note 7s does a good job of underlining quite what a complex job Samsung had trying to round them all up again. Some were essentially reimbursed by their network before Samsung attempted to reclaim the handset, while others were bought from people selling for parts. Another user didn’t return hers because it was bought from the black market in the Philippines making returns a “logistical nightmare.”

While it’s not making much noise about it now, Samsung still seems to be accepting returns. In late 2018, a Reddit user who wanted to only be identified as John found his old Note 7 in a drawer and phoned the helpline on a whim. For the safe return of the handset, Samsung offered a Galaxy S7 Edge, a Galaxy S8 or $950 in cash. Unsurprisingly, John took the cash. “They said that most people opted for the cash because that's worth more than the s8,” he explained. It “was a pretty quick call, almost like they had done it thousands of time.”

A redditor called chasd8898 had a very similar experience on a preowned Note 7 he bought for $40. “I buy, sell and repair, and often go and buy phone parts from stores,” he explained. Originally intending it for a “shelf piece,” he found Samsung were being ridiculously generous last month, getting a cheque for $943.42.

I decide that I need to call the magical Note 7 hotline myself. Of course, I don’t actually have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, so I just plan to claim that a friend of mine does. It’s not a complete lie, I tell myself – after all, I’ve just approached someone on Facebook Messenger about their Note 7, and who contacts people who aren’t friends on Messenger? Psychopaths, that’s who. “I’m not a psychopath,” I whisper to my cat as I dial the number. The UK Samsung support centre is completely nonplussed, seemingly unaware of any Note 7 safety issues. After a little confusion, I’m told that “I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing now, I’ve not heard anything.”

I later contacted Samsung through more formal journalistic channels and got a very clear response: “The Galaxy Note7 Replacement Programme continues to operate within Samsung Electronics UK and we look to support any customer with an eligible device seeking a replacement. Please refer to Samsung.com website.”

How much can you expect in cash? That depends, Samsung says: “Samsung Electronics UK works closely with the customers to assess their specific needs and resolve the matter by way of a refund or replacement.”

In other words, if you have a Note 7 in your house, it’s not too late to cash in.



Image: Anjz No fear That’s good, but a bigger issue is why anyone would voluntarily live with a possibly explosive handset in the first place.

“After the first year of the recall I don’t really worry about charging it any more,” says computerman10367. “I usually leave it charging overnight,” he added saying that Samsung hadn’t tried to get it back since the original recall.

John agreed, saying he was “never nervous using it.” It was “such a low number that it happened to, I never thought about it to be honest with you.”

Another Note 7 owner, who I’ll call Gary, was equally relaxed, making his only rule not to travel with the phone. “I knew that airport security would confiscate the device,” he said. “I was never really worried about the phone blowing up, so I didn't take any other precautions.”

Others didn’t even worry about that: “I used it as my primary phone every day, didn’t think twice,” said John. “I flew internationally with it a few times without an issue.” The Filipino black market seller had a similar philosophy to air travel: “I just made sure it was powered down on the plane.”

That’s probably concerning to the FAA which was pretty clear on its advice back in 2016, stating that “passengers who attempt to evade the ban by packing their phone in checked luggage are increasing the risk of a catastrophic incident. Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines.”

To be entirely fair to those who did take the Note 7 on flights, this is at the more extreme end of expert guidance. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had a more gentle advisory: “the UK Civil Aviation Authority advises airline passengers intending to travel with this phone to ensure it remains switched off for the duration of the flight. The phone should be carried in hand baggage and should not be charged during the flight.”

I decide to contact both the FAA and CAA to find out if their rules are still in place. I figure they’ll welcome a press inquiry that isn’t about drones taking down planes, and view this as an enjoyable nostalgia trip to risks of Christmas past. Neither returned my emails. [Update: The CAA got back to us with the following statement:

Our guidance was indeed withdrawn as airlines no longer consider any of the measures necessary. As far as we are aware the international regulator ICAO does not have a current policy on this. A presentation made to ICAO by the manufacturer reported a high return success rate.

So you can take a Note 7 onto a flight in the UK no problem. The FAA still has yet to respond] A reputation in tact Samsung for its part has tried to make the phones as useless as possible, by pushing through firmware updates blocking the batteries from filling over 60% and then getting the IMEI numbers banned from the networks. This has been pretty effective – while the company doesn’t answer my question about how many are left, the people are described as “the remaining minority of customers”, and this was apparently as low as 4% two years ago.

Still, it hasn’t put off some of the users. “I downloaded an update blocker, so I could still use my phone to its full potential. They eventually won out, because the cellular carriers banned the IMEIs from connecting to the network, so I just had a super phone sitting at home that I would use for music or drawing, etc.” said Gary.

None of the redditors I spoke to seemed to think any the less of Samsung as a company despite the Note 7 scandal. “If anything, the way they handled it made me more comfortable acquiring products from them in the future,” said a user called Anjz. He reviews hardware, and is more concerned by various sample Chinese power banks he’s been sent. John was also happy to defend Samsung: “I currently have the Note 8. I’ve even convinced my wife to switch from an iPhone to a Samsung after this all happened.”

If anything, the main concern is that Samsung has become a bit too conservative for fear of another PR disaster. “I currently have the Note 8, and I don't regret buying it, but it's definitely not as exciting as it was to buy the Note 7,” said Gary. “I feel like the Note 7 was the last phone to ‘wow’ me.

“I feel like they've been walking on eggshells, so to speak, since the Note 7 failed. But sometimes mistakes are made when you're creating something new, I hope they learn from them, and deliver us something amazing in the near future.”

A user called Rezin_Khanz agrees, saying that it bothered him that he had to deal with Samsung’s “very conservative manufacturing and engineering.” Still, he’ll always have the Note 7. Literally. “I'll Give them MY phone when they pry it from my cold dead, maybe even severely charred, hands,” he jokes.

This piece was originally written for me for publication on Gizmodo UK - a site that no longer exists. As such, with the site wiped from the internet, I assume there's no harm in republishing, but if any rights holders disagree, then please do get in touch. I think it was around the two-hour mark where I lost the will to live. I’d set out to find out how people are selling smartphones on shopping channels in an era where internet shopping is everywhere, and what had started as a fun idea turned into something more than a mere chore. I’m pretty sure I became the first person in the history of the world to series-link an Ideal World special.

“When I saw the deal I thought ‘wow, that's a fantastic deal… what kind of phone are we getting?’” asks Ideal World Shopping Channel host Peter Vollebregt. I can regrettably answer that question from memory, having made the unfortunate life choice of watching over three hours of him trying to hawk it. It’s the STK Life 7. No, I’d never heard of it either – and I’ve been reviewing phones for the past four years.

Fortunately a promotional video regularly breaks up the presenter banter, smoothing over my ignorance. STK aims to “redefine luxury by combining functional design, innovation and attention to detail,” the promo oozes. A quick check of the dictionary tells me that this £79.99 smartphone hasn’t quite managed to get that new definition to stick, but at least it’s trying.

And that shouldn’t surprise you. “With one prevalent dream, to go where there is no path and leave a trail, STK are the darers and doers of the tech world,” the voice continues. “STK are people that take responsibility to create an honest legacy that will take the next generation to a level we can only imagine.”

Gosh. How do they do that? Novelty camera overlays seems to be the main innovation, as far as I can tell.

No wonder the presenters seem keen. “I couldn’t believe it - the amount of tech you’re getting for that price,” says Vollebregt. “There’s more technology in this phone than put a man on the moon - when I say more, I mean not thousands of times. Millions.”

That’s right: you too could plan your very own Apollo mission with four simple payments of £20. You shouldn’t expect to lift off too quickly, though – just look how long it takes to open the TripAdvisor app:

“Everything is going to flow quite smoothly on this phone,” says Vollebregt, cheerfully ignoring the evidence from his own hand.

The full specifications aren’t ever fully disclosed, and the STK site is equally vague. An (unspecified) quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, and a 2,000mAh battery. It runs “one of the latest operating systems,” the presenters keep saying, which turned out to be Android N. Technically that is “one of the latest operating systems” but only in the same way that Temple of Doom is “one of the latest Indiana Jones movies”.

Actually, to be fair, it might run “Andriod 7.0”, which I’m less familiar with.

It’s supposed to sell for £119.99, but this is a Presenter Takeover special which means low, low prices for a limited time. In this case it’s £79.99 with a free power bank (“I like to call it electricity on the go” – thanks Peter) or a £10 O2 SIM card. That appears to be a great deal – “Have a look at some of the places we found it,” the presenters urge showing prices ranging between £89.99 and £119.99.

They can’t have looked too hard. A quick internet search reveals the handset on sale for £59.99 at retailers they’ve mysteriously missed, but given the presenters’ collective astonishment at five-year-old Android functions, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest they’re not familiar with Google.com. Or even Bing.

It’s apparently selling like hotcakes. There are “only around ten left” of the O2 deal, and you “desperately, desperately need to check out,” urges co-presenter Hayley Green towards the end of the second hour. As someone who mentally checked out about half an hour earlier, I completely sympathise.

“I’ll be absolutely honest,” she adds, calling into question how honest she was for the preceding 120 minutes, “I’m really worried about the stock. It’s meant to last until 9pm tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t.” I share this worry, given I’ve recorded two more hours for this feature. What am I going to write about if the last 120 minutes become a eulogy to a brilliant offer gone before its time?

I needn’t have worried. Hour three begins with Green missing – probably just as well given the stress the lack of stock seemed to be causing. In her place is Paul Becque, a cheerful cockney presenter, who launches things with a strong sales pitch. “Now I’m confident if I said I could get you a SatNav, a photo camera, a video camera and many many more items for under £100… c’mon, a SatNav for under 100 quid? You’re interested right?” Becque knows three people with £1,000 handsets. Those suckers.

His cheery style certainly adds a little levity to proceedings. He’s in awe of the breadth of the Google Play store’s content. There’s something for you whether you’re a fan of gardening or racing pigeons. “Yes, even racing pigeons,” he emphasises to a presumably disbelieving audience. A quick fact check shows that, yes, there are multiple pigeon racing apps on the Google Play Store.

But he’s not always an asset. “It’s a dog! I thought it was a mouse in that little picture,” he exclaims, somewhat undermining Vollebregt as he’s mid-way through effusively praising the quality of snaps he’s managed with the 8-megapixel camera. The fourth and final hour is a real treat, and not just because there’s still stock – despite Green’s warnings eight hours earlier. Not just because a loud buzzer sounds every ten minutes to warn the deal is nearly over. No, the real treat is an ostentatious countdown clock that sits in the right-hand corner of the screen, telling me exactly how much more of this I’m going to have to endure before I can go outside again. Actually by this point, I’ve seen the patter so much I think I could be drafted in to make the sales pitch. I’ve seen Peter in the fake French coffee shop three times. I’ve seen Peter in the car banging on about Sat Nav three times. I worry that I’ll dream about Peter showing off some fairly ropey camera overlays for the rest of my life. “How amazing is that?” he lilts when I close my eyes, even now. But there’s one part that remains truly spellbinding even on its third appearance. INT. A hotel bedroom - Day. Peter Vollebregt enters carrying an enormous luggage in one hand, and a STK Life 7 smartphone in the other. From the suitcase, one by one, he removes all the items his smartphone has replaced from what he describes as holiday essentials. One by one, a calculator, a calendar, a SatNav, a book, newspapers, magazines, a video camera, DVDs, CDs, a phrase book, a clock, a torch, a camera, a microphone, a radio, a chess set and a laptop are magically produced and tossed onto the bed. “Tell me, do you carry around a TV?” he asks at the climax of this five-minute tour de force, picking up what seems to be a 20-inch television. “Well I do… not this one, because that would be ridiculous. No, no: this one right here,” he continues, grabbing the STK Life 7 again. “Isn’t that incredible?” Like watching multiple performances of Hamlet, this magnificent performance is subtly different each time, meaning some poor sucker has been setting up the vignette repeatedly. It’s amazing that some disgruntled runner didn’t put in some dummy items for him to explain away, really, but sadly no sombreros or comically large marrows were smuggled in for either the matinee or evening performances of this engrossing piece of avant-garde performance art. So what have I learned after spending 0.045% of 2018 watching three people trying to schill a budget smartphone to a largely disinterested audience? Chiefly that you’re not supposed to watch four hours of it. It’s designed for channel hoppers dropping by and repetition is rife. Other life lessons along the way: you shouldn’t buy a smartphone from a shopping channel. Almost every decent STK feature comes from free Google apps and salespeople are prone to somewhat exaggerate the truth. Who knew? But the most odd thing about the whole experience is that even the hosts don’t seem to know who’s watching anymore. Is the audience aware smartphones exist or not? It’s not clear. Vollebregt claims Ideal World shifts around 50,000 STK phones per year, so somebody’s buying them. How many end up being returned with that no-quibble guarantee is left to our imaginations.


This piece was originally written for me for publication on Gizmodo UK - a site that no longer exists. As such, with the site wiped from the internet, I assume there's no harm in republishing, but if any rights holders disagree, then please do get in touch.


If a gentleman makes his own luck, then I’m no gentleman. Just a month ago, I draw Germany in a World Cup sweepstake only to cheer on a team that would rather roll over to South Korea than give me the satisfaction of winning £70.

It’s only money though, eh? And as anyone bored enough to read pages of tedious privacy policies will know, every one of us is sitting on a goldmine. As the old adage goes: ‘if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.’

Making that point all the more obvious is the Black Box Bellagio: an art installation/casino where data is the currency, and your chances of winning big are improved through transparency. In between talks at this year’s FutureFest, I hit the tables to find out if Lady Luck was smiling upon me… or at least curious enough about my private information to flash a grin. “Do you have Facebook connected to your smartphone?” the greeter asks. “Yes,” I reply. “Are you willing to show me?” Similar questions follow, with proof required that I have at least three privacy-sucking apps and have a university degree, before the questions get more personal. “Is anyone here on birth control, and willing to prove it?” Perhaps pessimistically – although, for all other purposes, realistically – I didn’t figure I’d need condoms at a technology festival, so I shake my head.

“At FutureFest we were very surprised to see how far people would go to prove to total strangers that they were on birth control/contraceptives,” the project’s co-creator Roos Groothuizen tells me later. “ There was one instance where a lady showed her upper arm and started wiggling her implant around with her fingers.”

I lose points for going freelance, confirming my mother’s worst fears about my future, and I’m not getting any luck elsewhere. I can’t prove I’m married, because I’m not; over the age of 36, because I’m not; or have over £22,000 because, thanks to the aforementioned career vortex, I definitely do not. So these are the chips I’m given. My personal worth coming to 1,700 of a possible 2,700. It’s now up to me to make the most of them – and to do so quickly, because I’m due at another talk. What’s the best way to burn money?

Not BlackJack, it turns out. Not because I can count cards – at least not in anything but the most literal, useless sense – but because this version of BlackJack doesn’t use chips. Instead, it’s me against the dealer, but rather than gaining currency, the winner gets to sabotage the loser’s Facebook profile by liking a page chosen by a spinner wheel. On my first go, I overplay my hand and go bust. I spin the wheel and become a fan of… Eddie Stobart. Well, that could have been worse.

We go again, and this time I hit a solid 18 before sticking. The dealer hits 17, and now it’s my turn to sabotage her profile: which is duly done for an additional like on ‘Meat is Murder’. It turns out that this profile doesn’t belong to the dealer herself, but to Groothuizen, whose Facebook account is well and truly vandalised with controversial interests. “In the beginning I got a few digital ‘eyebrow raises’ from friends after I liked the highly controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders,” she explains. “Now, they know what’s up when I suddenly like 50 pages in one day, but it’s scary to see how seriously friends and other people can take your digital persona.”

She actually enjoys this, pointing out that if you like enough random things, you essentially become invisible to an algorithm unsure of how to cope. She’s been showered with ads for groups like ‘Not ashamed of Jesus Christ’ and the fanpages of both Alex Jones and Stephen Colbert. “It's liberating. It's better than deactivating it, trashing it."

So far I’ve gained a hitherto unknown fandom of Eddie Stobart and boosted the vegetarian cause, but I’ve not lost any chips, so I rush to the roulette table: a place when a fool and his money are traditionally easily parted.

As you can see from the picture, certain squares are blocked out, and can only be bet on by certain people. I have to get rid of my chips quickly, so it’s all about the numbered squares. It takes me three turns. I’m very good at this

The poker table, Groothuizen tells me, is where privacy is really lost though. It works like a regular poker game, except players can get new cards or view other peoples’ hands if they’re prepared to reveal private information from their phones. Would you show your last Uber trip, your last Amazon order or your bank balance to a table of complete strangers?

Not understanding poker, for me, the question doesn’t arise, but others aren’t so lucky. “Someone had saved a porn video on their phone with sounds and everything, and they had to show everyone,” says Groothuizen. And he still didn’t win: “It cost him a lot,” recalls the project’s other creator, Ymer Marinus, who took the chips that day. Even for those that do win, Marinus reckons the dopamine rush of triumph is only temporary. “You can come in and experience it as a game thing, and you win chips and then you go home and feel good,” he says. “but you will feel uneasy after a few days.”

Groothuizen agrees: “I think in the rush of the game you completely forget what you're doing, and then once it's finished you think 'wait a second, I just shared all my personal informations with complete strangers.’”

“Which happens all the time online,” Marinus chips in.

Pockets empty, on my way out of the casino, I spot a fruit machine that doesn’t need coins: instead it takes a photo. In a perfect allegory for our general use of the internet, I don’t bother to read the smallprint on this gift horse and let it take my picture. This, it turns out, could have been a massive mistake:

My face used for catfishing. Or a face that looks a bit like me, only with less hair than I remember. I’m later told by Groothuizen that this doesn’t really happen, but it’s a moot point: for today I am lucky after all.

3,000 coins is not what I’m looking for when already running late for a talk, but there is a side effect to winning, I discover later: “You were the one who won the jackpot?” asks Groothuizen, surprised. “You erased all the pictures! We were saving every user's picture and publishing it to the website. You deleted the whole database – a hero amongst men,” she laughs.

All in a day’s work, I guess. What were the odds of that happening off the back of two spins? “Super small,” apparently – this happened twice over the weekend from over 400 spins. “You were very, very lucky,” Marinus says. I am, apparently, a rabbit’s foot for privacy advocates.

Not everyone walks away feeling happy with the exhibit though. “The most remarkable thing is that people actually feel violated, and they have a lot of questions,” says Marinus. Some are physically angry and upset, he says, while others just refuse to play at all. But that’s not an option on social media: something the pair of them acknowledge. “The not participating option seems a bit extreme and you're a social hostage,” says Marinus. “If you don't have it, you can't participate in society.”

“It's also strange to make the end user responsible,” adds Groothuizen. “Shouldn't the company be responsible for ethical use? Why should I be the person to deactivate my account?”

She shouldn’t, of course, but then real life isn’t like the Black Box Bellagio. The house always wins, one way or another.

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