FCC Asks Wireless Carriers to Help Cut Smartphone Thefts by Q1 2015
The FCC's chairman wants major U.S. wireless carriers to enable smartphone data wiping and other safety features by default by the end of March in 2015 to help protect users from phone thefts.The Federal Communications Commission is asking the big four wireless carriers in the United States to turn on anti-theft features in their smartphones by the end of March in 2015 to help protect consumers from phone theft by making the devices useless to thieves if they are stolen. Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, made the request last week in letters that he sent to leaders of Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as to U.S. Cellular, according to a Dec. 5 report by The Washington Post. In his letters to the carriers, Wheeler asked the companies to make "'lock/wipe/restore' functionality operational by default on all devices … by the end of the first quarter of 2015," the story said.
The FCC also last week released a 137-page study, called the "Report of Technological Advisory Council (TAC) Subcommittee on Mobile Device Theft Prevention," which concluded that mobile phone thefts occur at least one million times a year in the United States. According to the data, "at least one-tenth of all thefts and robberies committed in the U.S. are associated with the theft of a mobile device," the document stated. "As a caveat, there is considerable concern that the reported theft rate may be under reported, especially in cities that have not established a law enforcement focus on this criminal activity area."
The new TAC report was compiled because smartphone theft "has been identified as a major issue facing consumers, law enforcement and the mobile device ecosystem," according to the FCC. The report establishes recommendations for the FCC for lessening mobile device theft, the agency said.
In New York City, smartphone thefts represent an increasing share of all thefts, according to the report. "Between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of larcenies from a person involving a smartphone increased from 47 percent to 55 percent, and the percentage of robberies involving a smartphone increased from 40 percent to 46 percent. In 2013, more than one-quarter of all thefts and over half of grand larcenies from a person (55 percent) involved a smartphone. Between 2010 and 2013, robberies not involving a smartphone fell by 12 percent, while the percentage involving smartphone grew by nearly the same amount (13 percent)."
In San Francisco, "the majority (59 percent) of the approximately 4,000 robberies … in 2013 involved the theft of a smartphone," the report stated. "The victims of those robberies ultimately recovered less than one in ten stolen smartphones. Apple smartphones constituted the vast majority (69 percent) of smartphones stolen in San Francisco robberies."Meanwhile, Consumer Reports compiled its own estimates for smartphone thefts nationally, the report stated. Some 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen in 2012, according to Consumer Reports, while 3.1 million victims reported such a crime in 2013, which was a 94 percent increase in just one year, the group reported.