North Korea confiscates Galaxy S7 devices given to its Olympic athletes

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge Olympic Games Limited Edition
Samsung
North Korea has an odd Olympic spirit: on Friday the country foiled Samsung’s plan to provide its Summer Olympics athletes with free Galaxy S7 handsets — stripping them from the country’s strongest hands.

Samsung’s giveaway was part of a promotion the company coordinated last week. The Korean smartphone maker, an official sponsor of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, provided 12,500 Galaxy S7 smartphones to the Games’ numerous participants — among them 11,200 athletes from 206 countries — to use during pre-game festivities on August 5.

They shipped with a pre-installed “flag app” containing the digital banner colors of every participating country — including North Korea. “(The athletes) can use the entire screen of the S7 to become a flag,” Pio Schunker, a Samsung representative, told the Associated Press. “They will be waving (their) national flag through the S7.”

North Korean athletes were barred from participating. North Korea’s Olympic Committee forbade them from carrying Galaxy S7 units “as they entered Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony,” according to Radio Free Asia, and a spokesperson for Samsung later told the publication that a North Korean team manager confiscated the devices. Reportedly, government officials were concerned that the phones would provide a means to “access the Samsung exhibition, where the company displayed South Korean electronics.”

The manager who took the allotment of phones was later identified by Olympics organizers as Yoon Sungbum. He refused to comment on the fate of the Samsung phones, but Kim Song I, a North Korean table tennis player, reportedly shook her head when asked by Radio Free Asia whether or not she had received one.

There’s precedent for North Korea’s behavior, apparently. South Korean team managers told Radio Free Asia that the dictatorship’s coaches regularly confiscate electronics intended for the country’s athletes — an effort intended to limit their contact with the outside world.

The movements of North Korean Olympic competitors are restricted in other ways. They aren’t allowed to see “places of interest” or “mix with others,” restrictions that observers say are meant as deterrents against defection. It’s a relatively common occurrence at international sporting events: as many as 45 members of the Eritrean soccer team, for instance, have sought asylum in various host countries during trips abroad.

Following the 2012 Olympic games in London, several Olympians from Cameroon and Sudan attempted to obtain temporary residence in Britain. In 2008, five Cuban soccer players defected in Tampa, Florida during an Olympic qualifier; the Romanian junior world wrestling team sought refuge in Australia in 1999; and in 1996, an Iraqi weightlifter fled from his hotel in Atlanta.

Despite North Korea’s iron grip on its athletes’ movements, the country has long celebrated the collective achievements of its top physical performers. It’s competed in every Summer Olympics since 1972, with the exception of the two it boycotted — the 1984 games in Los Angeles and the 1988 games in Seoul. And the country’s competitors have performed exceptionally well: North Korea has won medals at every game it’s attended, and now has 49 in total.

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un holds the country’s athletics program in particularly high regard, according to the New York Times. This year, he instructed the Rio-bound team to “come back with five gold medals.”

Article originally published in August 2016.

Updated on 08-16-2016: Added additional details about potential motivation for the confiscation. 

Business

Apple loses battle to use Intel modems in Germany in latest clash with Qualcomm

Apple is following the Federal Trade Commission's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Mobile

The Moto G4 Plus is finally getting the update to Android Oreo

We've reached out to every major Android hardware manufacturer and asked them when they will update their devices to the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android 8.0 Oreo.
Mobile

Samsung teases it will reveal its foldable phone during the Galaxy S10 event

Samsung has been showcasing bendable display tech for a few years and now a folding smartphone might finally arrive. The Galaxy X, or perhaps the Galaxy Fold, may be the company's first example. Here's everything we know about it.
Mobile

Bag yourself a bargain with the best budget tablets under $200

The battle for your budget tablet affections is really ramping up. Which tablet, costing less than $200, should be commanding your attention? We take a look at some different options for the budget-conscious.
Computing

What is Wi-Fi 6? Here's a look at the next evolution of the wireless standard

We're exploring the new naming convention for wireless standards, how it affects the devices you buy, and what the upcoming Wi-Fi generation is changing for the better.
Mobile

OnePlus 6T vs. Honor View 20: We compare the cameras in these ‘flagship killers’

For less than $600, you can buy either the OnePlus 6T or the Honor View 20, two extremely capable smartphones with plenty of exciting features. But which one has the best camera? We found out on a recent trip to France.
Home Theater

Samsung accidentally leaks its new Galaxy Buds ahead of launch

It's been all but certain that Samsung would launch a successor to its Gear IconX wireless earbuds soon, but a newly leaked photo and recent FCC certification document seems to indicate that the debut is very close.
Wearables

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…
Home Theater

Hi-res streaming audio service Qobuz arrives in U.S., threatens Tidal’s monopoly

For several years, Tidal enjoyed a monopoly on hi-res music streaming in the U.S. Now, French company Qobuz is here to offer some competition with a variety of monthly plans starting at $10 a month.
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Mobile

Save space on your iPhone by turning off Live Photos in the camera app

If you want to save storage space on your iPhone or reduce the size of your backup for iCloud, then you should think about turning off Live Photos in the camera app. Find out exactly how to do it with our easy guide.
Mobile

The best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases to keep your titanic phone safe

The new Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is a gorgeous device, with one of the best dual-lens cameras we've ever seen. Keep your titanic device safe and scratch-free with the best Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus cases.
Deals

Amazon slashes prices on Fitbit Versa smartwatches for Presidents’ Day

Amazon is offering a solid $30 discount on this great fitness tracking smartwatch right now. So if you're looking for a wearable that can help you track steps, sleep, and activity, now is a great time to pick one up for less.