Smartphone Kill Switch for Stolen Cells Nixed by Carriers

Image: Smartphone Kill Switch for Stolen Cells Nixed by Carriers

Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 09:51 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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The country's largest smartphone carriers have rejected the idea of installing built-in anti-theft kill switches that would make stolen phones inoperable, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Monday.

AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, United States Cellular Corp., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. declined a proposal by Samsung to preload its phones with Absolute LoJack anti-theft software as a standard feature, according to the Associated Press. 

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Wireless industry leaders say that kill switch technology would allow hackers to disable phones.

The Federal Communications Commission stated that nearly 1 in 3 robberies in the United States involves a phone theft. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the Associated Press that lost and stolen mobile devices cost consumers more than $30 billion last year, proving that it is a cash cow for the wireless industry.

Gascon and Schneiderman are part of a nationwide group of law enforcement specialists who have been pushing for kill switch technology.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group for wireless providers, told the Associated Press that permanent kill switches would be vulnerable to hackers who could disable mobile devices and lock out phones of individuals and law enforcement agencies.

Matt Burns of Tech Crunch said the wireless carriers are looking out for their profits more than consumers by rejecting the kill switch technology. 

"The wireless industry as a whole needs to let go and put more power in the hands of the owners," Burns wrote. "Give owners a native kill switch, a software solution baked into the core of the phone, which upon activation, would completely brick the phone if it gets stolen.

"The auto industry was once plagued by stolen radios. The problem was solved when car manufacturers took a hard stance and made it so a stolen radio would not work outside of the original car. But don’t expect the wireless industry to take such a hardline. A car owner with a broken window missing radio does not go out and buy an expensive new car. They buy a new window and radio," Burns continued.

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