A new program called the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” is gaining ground as Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft, as well as the five major US carriers have pledged their support to it. What this program does is it basically allows a “kill switch” feature to be included in a smartphone allowing the owner to activate it if the device gets stolen or lost. This protects the sensitive data that may be stored in the device and makes it useless to sell in the black market.
As early as July 2015 all smartphone models sold in the United States by the signatories will have a pre-loaded or downloadable anti-theft tool that will be offered at no cost to the consumer.
The anti-theft tool will have the following capabilities
- Ability to remotely wipe a user’s data which include photos, contacts, emails, personal info, etc. once the device gets lost or stolen
- Make the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users. This means that the device will be locked and its features cannot be used except those that are authorized by the FCC such as calls to 911, or emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user.
- Prevent reactivation of the device without the authorized user’s consent.
- Make the smartphone operable again once recovered by the authorized user and restore the data that was previously wiped.
Steve Largent, President and CEO, CTIA, said that “We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen. This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain. At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals. By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones.”
This latest development is a reversal to the previous stance of the wireless carriers. The carriers at first resisted this idea saying that hackers may find a way to exploit the “kill switch” feature and may use it against the owner of the device.
The mounting pressure from several politicians who have already formulated laws on a state level requiring a remote shutdown feature may have swayed the decision of the wireless carriers.
Illinois State Senator Toi Hutchinson said that “We got the kill switch technology solution we wanted to protect Illinois consumers. The wireless industry has agreed to provide a free preloaded or downloadable anti-theft application for smartphones to help protect owners if their phones are stolen. This tool would allow smartphone owners to remotely wipe their personal data and remotely shut down a stolen phone so it is not valuable to thieves. Today’s announcement is a significant step to provide additional protections to Illinois consumers.”
Rhode Island State Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio said that “I am grateful to the participating carriers, device manufacturers and operating system companies for voluntarily coming to this decision to improve public safety. This is a move which is good for consumers and good for business, in my opinion. It gives consumers peace of mind and protects them from the threat of having their personal information exposed. The ability to make the system inoperable also eliminates much of the incentive for theft in the first place.”
The “kill switch” feature is seen as a solution to the growing smartphone theft problem in the U.S. today. According to the FCC one in every three robberies in the U.S. involves phones. Lost mobile devices amounted to a $30 billion loss to consumers in 2012 alone.