A Commitment but No Kill Switch

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — April 17, 2014

CTIA and participating wireless companies announced the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment,” which is the most recent effort by the industry to deter smartphone thefts in the U.S.

The increase in theft has come with an escalation of violence around the criminal act. Smartphones have become more valuable than jewelry because of the ease of turning them into cash, as the black market prices are tremendous compared to what most users pay with subsidizing.

Most major cities reported a rise in these thefts in 2013—from 23% in San Francisco and 8% in New York for example, but the major players, who are now on board had been resistant to a so-called kill switch.  Now Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, to name a few, have agreed that from July 2015 and on, will include a preloaded way to wipe and disable the device.

Some devices/systems, like iOS7 and the Galaxy S5, have this type of security built in, however, that, along with the new mandate requires user action. A true kill switch could be automatically activated.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón issued the following statement in response to the commitment.

“While CTIA’s decision to respond to our call for action by announcing a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones is a welcome step forward, it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft. We strongly urge CTIA and its members to make their anti-theft features enabled by default on all devices, rather than relying on consumers to opt-in. The industry also has a responsibility to protect its consumers now and not wait until next year. Every week that passes means more people are victimized in street crimes that often turn violent, and more families will have to endure the needless loss of a loved one. The epidemic of smartphone theft is a global problem that requires a global solution, these protections should not be limited to consumers here in the United States. Today’s announcement is an important acknowledgment by the smartphone industry that technology to deter theft is not only feasible, but also practical. Accordingly, our work must continue until the standard is that these solutions are enabled by default.

This commitment adds to a previously announced approach to protect consumers and aid law enforcement, which included blacklist databases, consumer education and federal legislation to impose tough penalties against those caught stealing devices or modifying them illegally.

“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,” said Steve Largent, President and CEO, CTIA. “By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones.” 
The Commitment
Part I
Each device manufacturer and operating system signatory of Part I of this “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” agrees that new models of smartphones first manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States will offer, at no cost to consumers, a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones that provides the connected capability to:

  1. Remote wipe the authorized user’s data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen. 
  2. Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., “phone home”).
  3. Prevent reactivation without authorized user’s permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).
  4. Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).
In addition to this baseline anti-theft tool, consumers may use other technological solutions, if available for their smartphones.

Part II
Each network operator signatory of Part II to the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” commits to permit the availability and full usability of a baseline anti-theft tool to be preloaded or downloadable on smartphones as specified in this commitment. 

The following network operators, device manufacturers and operating system companies are participating in the voluntary commitment: Apple Inc.; Asurion; AT&T; Google Inc.; HTC America, Inc.; Huawei Device USA; Motorola Mobility LLC; Microsoft Corporation; Nokia, Inc.; Samsung Telecommunications America, L.P.; Sprint Corporation; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless.


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