US operators, device makers pledge 'kill switch' rollout

US operators, device makers pledge ‘kill switch’ rollout

16 APR 2014

The five largest US operators, along with smartphone makers, have signed an agreement in which new models of smartphones manufactured for retail sale in the US after July 2015 will feature tools to protect users in the event of phone theft.

The Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment programme is led by US mobile industry association CTIA, and has been signed by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile US, US Cellular and Verizon Wireless.

Participating device makers and software companies include Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung.

The technology companies have committed to providing a “baseline anti-theft tool” at no cost to consumers that is preloaded on devices or downloadable.

The tools will enable the remote wiping of user data; make devices inoperable by unauthorised users (via password or PIN); prevent the reactivation of devices without user permission; and reverse inoperability and restore data if the smartphone is returned to its owner.

The mobile operators are committed to permitting the anti-theft tool to be preloaded or downloaded to devices.

Some device makers already offer similar functionality. Apple’s iOS 7 includes Activation Lock, which stops a stolen device being reactivated even if it is reset, while a kill switch is already built into Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone.

The move was praised by a number of lawmakers, but in a statement sent to Re/code, California state Senator Mark Leno, who recently sponsored a kill switch law in the state, said it was “an incremental yet inadequate step” and that the “opt-in proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets”.

Leno said that to have a deterrent effect on criminals, the vast majority of consumers must have the kill switch feature enabled and that the industry “must commit to the whole solution, not just a piece of it”.

There have been growing calls for mobile device makers to provide a means to prevent stolen phones and tablets from being reactivated.

This is being led by the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) initiative, which aims to introduce anti-theft technology on mobile devices. SOS is co-chaired by New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, San Francisco district attorney George Gascon and London mayor Boris Johnson.

In a letter sent to US operators in December last year, Schneiderman accused them of making it difficult for Samsung to preload a kill switch onto certain smartphones.

Samsung responded by saying it was in discussions with operators in the US about a kill switch on its Galaxy Note 3, with some operators saying they will support a free and secure kill switch applications.

The calls for such technology aren’t limited to the US either: South Korea’s ministry responsible for ICT reportedly told the country’s smartphone manufacturers this week that they must load a ‘kill switch’ in all new devices.


Tim Ferguson

Tim joined Mobile World Live in August 2011 and works across all channels, with a particular focus on apps. He came to the GSMA with five years of tech journalism experience, having started his career as a reporter... More

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