Mexico Orders Samsung, Motorola To Stop Remotely Disabling Phones

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Samsung, Motorola, ZTE instructed by Mexican government to stop remotely bricking gray market smartphones imported into the country

Big name manufacturers in the smartphone industry are at the centre of a growing row in Mexico, after it emerged they were remotely bricking people’s phones.

Right to repair champion Louis Rossmann on YouTube, citing an original report on the matter by local journalist Juan Zago, noted that firms such as Samsung, Motorola, and Oppo have been remotely blocking and partially bricking handsets imported into Mexico by channels not approved by the local regulator or phone manufacturer.

What makes this bricking move so controversial, is that these so called gray phones were allegedly acquired by Mexican citizens from local suppliers, online stores, and importers, rather than approved channels.

Gray market phones

The grey phone market is said to be popular in Mexico due to the cheaper costs of the handsets, with one in five handsets in Mexico allegedly obtained via the gray market.

According to the original article from Juan Zago, ZTE was the first when in October 2022 it began sending users notifications that their mobile devices would not work properly in Mexico, due to the handsets not being approved to work with the local mobile networks.

Then Motorola Mexico apparently began clamping down on the gray phones in mid 2023, with alerts and security warnings to users, before warning that from 27 July 2023, all unauthorised Motorola devices in the country would be blocked, with the handset completely disabled (other than making emergency calls).

Motorola did apparently offer a 30 percent off coupon for the user to purchase an approved Motorola handset in the country.

Soon after that Oppo reportedly said it would begin blocking unauthorised handsets in the country, with the CEO of Oppo Mexico alleging the gray phones were carrying out fraud against the company.

According to the Juan Zago report, Samsung also joined the bricking of unauthorised phones from 11 October 2023, but also offered a 30 percent discount to purchase a new device via the official store.

Xiaomi began notifying users, but reportedly did not carry out any bricking.

The smartphone manufacturers reportedly used the phone’s IMEI number to identify the offending handsets.

Government response

Initially Mexico’s regulator, the Federal Institute of Telecommunications, did not intervene, other than warning against the dangers of acquiring handsets from the gray market.

But soon after that on 19 October, Mexican authorities called for the immediate suspension of all measures imposed by manufacturers to block irregular mobile equipment, citing violation of consumer and end user rights.

The authorities instead called for the formation of a working group to plan and implement action against the gray market, without neglecting the consumer.

Samsung responded that it will end the blocking of such smartphones and work with the government and agencies for a solution.