Smartphone Kill Switch Debate Generates Far More Heat Than Light

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-11-24 Print this article Print

"However, no manufacturer has yet made one available to us, and press reports to the contrary are inaccurate," Ortel said. "Once a manufacturer provides us with an Android 'kill switch' that is free to consumers, we'll work to provide it to our customers."

Other carriers take pretty much the same position. Sprint maintains a Stolen Phone Website that gives immediate information on what to do if a customer's phone is stolen, for example. "Our 'stolen phone' site explicitly recommends that customers utilize protection features on their devices," Sprint spokesperson Crystal Davis told eWEEK. These include "pass codes that can erase device information, implement a remote lock, and additional related products that are available in the Android, BlackBerry and Apple marketplace," Davis said.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told eWEEK that the industry really needs tough penalties covering device theft and modifications to hide their electronic serial numbers. This would help dry up the market, Siegel said. He also noted that carriers as a group are on schedule to complete their stolen phone databases in 2013.

Over the long run, these measures being taken by the carriers will reduce the problem of mobile phone theft because they will eventually eliminate the market for stolen phones, at least in the United States.

But mobile device owners are being attacked, injured and killed today. The suggested steps don't really address that—except for one. Apple's Activation Lock is in place now, and all of the carriers that sell iPhones and iPads sell it with the devices because it's already installed and it already works to make devices running iOS7 unusable if they're reported to Apple as being stolen.

But there's still a problem. The one thing the AGs know because they're in touch with criminals on a regular basis is that you not only have to convince owners and carriers that the phones are protected, you have to convince the criminals. This means that until thieves find that they can't sell a mobile phone because it can't be activated, they're going to keep stealing them, even if that means killing the owner.

So ultimately there are two goals. The first goal, which is to protect owners against losing their information and perhaps finding their phone again, is well on its way to being met. But the second goal, bringing realization to the people who see your iPhone as a source of quick cash on the street that they won't be able to activate the phone, requires a significantly more forceful statement. A real kill switch like Apple's may be the only thing that will do that.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel