Since update 3.1, Nvidia can force updates (such as the one that bricks your tablet) to be downloaded and installed silently. No guarantees, but:
- If you're on stock, delete TegraOTA (/system/app/TegraOTA or /system/priv-app/TegraOTA if you're on 5.0 or newer, or /system/app/TegraOTA.apk if you're still on 4.4) before booting into Android (the attached ZIP file does this for you, but please check with the file manager in recovery before rebooting and let me know if it didn't work), then reboot
Note: you also will need to delete TegraOTA again if you ever install an OTA from Nvidia or a recovery image
- If you're not on stock, you're probably safe
EDIT 2: The urgent OTA is now being delivered again, this time named "ST - yy"!
What if my tablet is already deactivated?
Unless you can still boot into fastboot mode (in which case your tablet isn't really deactivated yet), your tablet is probably gone for good. The only way to fix this would be through nvflash, and using it requires the SBK that is unique to each device and that only Nvidia knows, so it's pretty unlikely that we'll ever be able to fix these deactivated tablets.
In the last OTA (Update 3.1), Nvidia has made some changes to their TegraOTA application. The most important/interesting/suspicious of which is the ability for them to mark OTAs as "urgent". What this means is that these updates will be downloaded without ever notifying the user, and they will be installed without asking the user for permission first. If this is how the kill switch is delivered, all users will see is the tablet randomly rebooting and installing an update, then the tablet would never boot again. As some of you might notice, this would match what has been happening to a few users already, both here and on reddit.
But that's not all. I've been connecting to the OTA servers using various serial numbers (both found and provided to me by a few people) in hopes of actually finding the update that bricks the device. The first serial number I've tried that wasn't mine was the serial number from the screenshot on the recall page. It revealed an interesting "urgent" OTA, named "SHIELD Tablet xx - LTE", which does nothing but flash a blob (which, among other things, contains the bootloader). Many more questions appear now, but the main one is: if this is nothing but a routine bootloader update, why is it marked urgent? And why is it not attached to any Android update? But this by itself is not enough to prove anything, as I could only obtain it with one serial number, so as far as I could have known, it might had just been an internal update or something similar. (update is linked and analysed in the second post below)
Today, however, one of the serial numbers I've been given by some of the people here (thanks for the help guys!) turned out to have the same update waiting for it the next time it connected to the Internet. This rules out the possibility of an internal update, so the next somewhat obvious possibility is that this is the kill switch. Mind you, I still have no direct way of proving this without flashing the ZIP to see what happens (which I'm not planning to do myself), but I will keep checking on the other serial numbers I've gotten to see if this update turns up for them too.
The same person who has given me this serial number has also tested running the old tablet on the latest stock Android version but with TegraOTA removed, and, as expected, the tablet is still working perfectly fine now. Your mileage may vary.
How can I know if the kill switch has been triggered for my tablet?
Go to http://shield.bogdacutu.me/ and enter the full serial number of your old tablet. If the next OTA returned is
Warning: the serial number from the box of the tablet and the one etched on the side of the tablet are not complete, as they only contain the first 13 characters of the full (20 characters) serial number. You can get the full serial number from Android (Settings -> About -> Status), from the bootloader (it will be on the screen when you boot into bootloader mode), or from your computer if the tablet is or (in some cases) if it was previously connected, using various tools such as USBDeview. Example: 0413714803249000a4cf (you can try this on the page and it will return that the kill switch is activated).
Why would I want to also do the fix on my new tablet too?
The update is signed by Nvidia, and communication with the OTA server does not use HTTPS, so, for example, a malicious WiFi network could MITM your connection and cause this update (as well as any other signed update) to be flashed to your new tablet without your permission, thus permanently disabling it too. If you have the stock recovery, only updates signed by Nvidia can run. The story might be slightly different if your recovery doesn't enforce signature verification (such as TWRP and CWM by default).
Can I still get updates from Nvidia after doing this?
Not directly, but people will post OTA download links here on xda when new updates get released. I'd personally recommend that you wait before flashing though until someone here checks the new update to confirm that there's no new way for Nvidia to kill your tablet.
Many hours of work have gone into investigating this. Even if it doesn't help your specific scenario, consider hitting that Thanks button, so that I can at least know it wasn't for nothing.
I'd also like to thank the people who have given me their serial numbers to use for testing again, this wouldn't have been possible without their help: @Beauenheim, @Jackill, and @runandhide05 (who has even volunteered to test removing TegraOTA with the latest update on his old tablet )