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Despite app ban, business as usual at TV box shops in Sim Lim Square

SINGAPORE: Shops in Sim Lim Square are continuing to sell TV boxes that allow users to stream premium content like movies, TV shows and live sports for a one-time fee.

This is despite the High Court ordering Internet service providers to block access to streaming applications that come pre-loaded in these TV boxes, which are also known as Android boxes.

One app that has been banned is UBTV, which is pre-loaded in a type of TV box called Ubox. UBTV is owned by China-based company Unblock Tech.

Channel NewsAsia visited a shop selling Uboxes on Monday (Nov 26), posing as a customer. The sales assistant there said the UBTV app still works fine. "It's blocked by your network provider, but it can still work," she said.

The Ubox packaging. (Photo: Facebook)

During setup, she said users can circumvent the ban by installing a pre-loaded app which alters users' Domain Name System (DNS) settings.

"You always have to run this first," she added, demonstrating how to install the app, which then showed the user's new DNS setting. "As long as you have this information, it shows that it’s already linked."

The sales assistant then installed other streaming apps which successfully played live premium TV channels. Some could also download Hollywood movies released as recently as this year.

The shop was selling the Ubox plus a one-year warranty for S$198.

Another shop in the mall displayed a small sign advertising Unblock TV near the TV boxes it was selling. The sign boasted more than 1,000 live TV channels from countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.

The sales assistant there declined comment after this reporter identified himself. Soon after, another sales assistant denied that his shop sold UBTV. "We don't sell the illegal ones," he said.


Two other shops in Sim Lim Square were also selling TV boxes which they said are unaffected by the ban because the pre-loaded apps are legal.

While TV boxes containing decoders that allow viewers to stream premium content for free are illegal, the law is not as clear when it comes to other types of TV boxes that use these so-called legal apps.

Two TV box sellers, An-Nahl and Synnex Trading, were in January charged with "wilfully infringing" the copyright of four companies, representing a chance for the Courts to clarify its legal position on the use of such boxes.

An-Nahl's director Abdul Najib Abdul Aziz has indicated that he would like to contest the charges against him and his company. The trial is fixed for April next year.

Back in Sim Lim Square, the sales assistant at Sync Mart on the third floor said his ATTV Box is unaffected by the ban as it is "connected to the Singapore server".

"UBTV is on the Hong Kong server and acts as a decoder. So they blocked it already," said the assistant, who declined to be named. "(The ATTV Box) is still legal because you pay for the box, and the movies or live channels will have advertisements. They earn money from the advertisements."

The U-Rock packaging. (Photo: Facebook)

CH2 Technologies on the fourth floor was selling a TV box called U-Rock, which the sales assistant said was also unaffected by the ban.

"It’s legal, working and you don’t need to pay a subscription," said the staff member, who declined to be named. "We cannot do illegal things."

Both the ATTV Box and U-Rock come with an app called Swift Stream, which allows users to watch live channels from countries like India, France, USA and the UK. It also had options for sports and science programmes.

The ATTV Box and U-Rock, which were advertised as local brands, were selling for S$129 and S$118, respectively.


Meanwhile, netizens have also found a similar way to work around the ban, by changing the DNS settings on their TV box or Internet router.

A user photo showing that access to UBTV has been blocked. (Photo: Facebook)

In the New TV Box SG Facebook group, one member commented on a post announcing the ban, saying: "Don't need VPN, just change DNS." Another in the same thread replied: "Thanks for the great tip! Working great."

On another post regarding the ban, another member commented that he would rather pay for an alternative way to watch premium content. "Telcos are marking up their cable TV packages way too much," he lamented.

READ: Almost 4 in 10 Singaporeans actively streaming content illegally: CASBAA study​​​​​​​

READ: TV streaming devices - are they legal in Singapore?

But a cybersecurity expert at Irdeto, a digital security platform provider for the media and entertainment business, warned that consumers who use TV boxes might risk getting their personal data stolen.

"By watching illegal streams knowingly or unknowingly, consumers are potentially exposing their devices, data and families to risks of cybercrime, inappropriate content and other threats," said Irdeto's vice-president of cybersecurity services Mark Mulready.

"The same digital and connected TV platforms that cybercriminals target for illegal redistribution of content also act as attack surfaces for hackers looking to gain access to service providers’ networks and potentially steal customer information and other important data."

For example, Mr Mulready pointed to how the increasing consumption of film and TV content via the Internet without subscribing to a traditional cable or pay-TV service "has led to a big market in stolen credentials".

"Today’s cybercriminal has customers to satisfy and must consider their return on investment, just like any other business," he added.

Source: CNA/hz


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