Tech companies agree with US on smartphone kill switch

Several lawmakers over the last year have teamed up with  manufacturers and wireless carriers to include smarter antitheft technology on smartphones. A group of tech and phone companies on Tuesday said they were on board with the idea.

CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the carriers, said over a dozen companies, including Apple, AT&T, Google, Samsung Electronics and Verizon Wireless, had committed to offering free antitheft software for cellphones at the beginning of next year.

They said the issue that remained with the group’s proposal was that the kill-switch would not necessarily be enabled by default on the phone, meaning criminals may still target smartphones in hopes that some consumers did not have the antitheft technology turned on. Several antitheft technologies, some of them free, already exist on the market that people can download.

In their statement, Mr. Gascón and Mr. Schneiderman said: “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.”

CTIA’s position is a shift, as it had initially opposed a so-called kill switch. In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission last year, the group said that a kill switch would pose risks, because hackers who took control of the feature could disable phones for customers, including the phones used by officials in the Defense Department and in law enforcement.

Steve Largent, chief executive of CTIA, said in his statement on Tuesday that it was important to offer various antitheft technologies so that hackers and criminals could not easily find a “trap door” to disable people’s phones.

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen,” he said. “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.”

Some lawmakers are still pushing for a kill switch to be included on all smartphones. State Senator Mark Leno of California introduced a bill that would require a kill switch for phones sold in California. That bill might be on the floor of the Senate for a vote as early as next week.

“The wireless industry today has taken an incremental yet inadequate step to address the epidemic of smartphone theft,” Mr. Leno said in a statement. “Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive. While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets.”

The latest software system on Apple’s iPhones and iPads already include a kill-switch solution called Activation Lock. Still, phone theft continues to grow. In San Francisco, 2,400 cellphones were stolen last year, a 23 percent rise from 2012, according to the San Francisco police. Phone thefts also grew in New York and Washington, D.C., last year, according to statistics from the police in those cities.

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