The Truth Behind the “Kodi Boxes Can Kill Their Owners” Headlines

Opinion

This week, tabloid headlines screamed that so-called "Kodi Boxes" are a threat not only to the entertainment industries, but also to life itself. Claiming that devices could kill their owners due to electrical safety standards failures, we took a look at the actual report. Forget just throwing set-top boxes in the trash, it looks like anything electrical without a brand name needs to be discarded immediately.

Another week, another batch of ‘Kodi Box Armageddon’ stories. This time it hasn’t been directly about the content they can provide but the physical risks they pose to their owners.

After being primed in advance, the usual British tabloids jumped into action early Thursday, noting that following tests carried out on “illicit streaming devices” (aka Android set-top devices), 100% of them failed to meet UK national electrical safety regulations.

The tests were carried out by Electrical Safety First, a charity which was prompted into action by anti-piracy outfit Federation Against Copyright Theft.

“A series of product safety tests on popular illicit streaming devices entering the UK have found that 100% fail to meet national electrical safety regulations,” a FACT statement reads.

“The news is all the more significant as the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) estimates that more than one million of these illegal devices have been sold in the UK in the last two years, representing a significant risk to the general public.”

After reading many sensational headlines stating that “Kodi Boxes Might Kill Their Owners”, please excuse us for groaning. This story has absolutely nothing – NOTHING – to do with Kodi or any other piece of software. Quite obviously, software doesn’t catch fire.

So, suspecting that there might be more to this than meets the eye, we decided to look beyond the press releases into the actual Electrical Safety First (ESF) report. While we have no doubt that ESF is extremely competent in its field (it is, no question), the front page of its report is disappointing.

Despite the items sent for testing being straightforward Android-based media players, the ESF report clearly describes itself as examining “illicit streaming devices”. It’s terminology that doesn’t describe the subject matter from an electrical, safety or technical perspective but is pretty convenient for FACT clients Sky and the Premier League.

Nevertheless, the full picture reveals rather more than most of the headlines suggest.

First of all, it’s important to know that ESF tested just nine devices out of the million or so allegedly sold in the UK during the past two years. Even more importantly, every single one of those devices was supplied to ESF by FACT.

Now, we’re not suggesting they were hand-picked to fail but it’s clear that the samples weren’t provided from a neutral source. Also, as we’ll learn shortly, it’s possible to determine in advance if an item will fail to meet UK standards simply by looking at its packaging and casing.

But perhaps even more intriguing is that the electrical testing carried out by ESF related primarily not to the set-top boxes themselves, but to their power supplies. ESF say so themselves.

“The product review relates primarily to the switched mode power supply units for the connection to the mains supply, which were supplied with the devices, to identify any potential risks to consumers such as electric shocks, heating and resistance to fire,” ESF reports.

The set-top boxes themselves were only assessed “in terms of any faults in the marking, warnings and instructions,” the group adds.

So, what we’re really talking about here isn’t dangerous illicit streaming devices set-top boxes, but the power supply units that come with them. It might seem like a small detail but we’ll come to the vast importance of this later on.

Firstly, however, we should note that none of the equipment supplied by FACT complied with Schedule 1 of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994. This means that they failed to have the “Conformité Européene” or CE logo present. That’s unacceptable.

In addition, none of them lived up the requirements of Schedule 3 of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 either, which in part requires the manufacturer’s brand name or trademark to be “clearly printed on the electrical equipment or, where that is not possible, on the packaging.” (That’s how you can tell they’ll definitely fail UK standards, before sending them for testing)

Also, none of the samples were supplied with “sufficient safety or warning information to ensure the safe and correct use, assembly, installation or maintenance of the equipment.” This represents ‘a technical breach’ of the regulations, ESF reports.

Finally, several of the samples were considered to be a potential risk to their users, either via electric shock and/or fire. That’s an important finding and people who suspect they have such devices at home should definitely take note.

However, the really important point isn’t mentioned in the tabloids, probably since it distracts from the “Kodi Armageddon” narrative which underlies the whole study and subsequent reports.

ESF says that one of the key issues is that the set-top boxes come unbranded, something which breaches safety regulations while making it difficult for consumers to assess whether they’re buying a quality product. Crucially, this is not exclusively a set-top box problem, it is much, MUCH bigger.

“Issues with power supply units or unbranded and counterfeit chargers go beyond illicit streaming devices. In the last year, issues have been reported with other consumer electrical devices, such as laptop chargers and counterfeit phone chargers,” the same ESF report reveals.

“The total annual online sales of mains plug-in chargers is estimated to be in the region of 1.8 million and according to Electrical Safety First, it is likely that most of these sales involve cheap, unbranded chargers.”

So, we looked into this issue of problem power supplies and chargers generally, to see where this report fits into the bigger picture. It transpires it’s a massive problem, all over the UK, across a wide range of products. In fact, Trading Standards reports that 99% of non-genuine Apple chargers bought online “fail a basic safety test”.

But buying from reputable High Street retailers doesn’t help either.

During the past year, Poundworld was fined for selling – wait for it – 72,000 dangerous chargers. Home Bargains was also fined for selling “thousands” of power adaptors that fail to meet UK standards.

“All samples provided failed to comply with Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations and were not marked with the manufacturer’s name,” Trading Standards reports.

That sounds familiar.

So, there you have it. Far from this being an isolated “Kodi Box Crisis” as some have proclaimed, this is a broad issue affecting imported electrical items in general. On this basis, one can’t help but think the tabloids missed a trick here. Think of the power of this headline:

ALL UNBRANDED ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT CAN KILL, DISCONNECT EVERYTHING

or, alternatively:

PIRATES URGED TO SWITCH TO BRANDED AMAZON FIRESTICKS, SAFER FOR KODI

Perhaps not….

The ESF report can be found here (pdf)

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