Anti-Theft Tools Coming To A Smartphone Near You In 2015

Last month we told you that a proposed anti-theft kill switch feature for smartphones could save the 1.6 million consumers who are victims of phone theft billions of dollars each year. Well, it looks like that technology is closer than we could have anticipated now that major U.S. wireless carriers and smartphone manufacturers have agreed to introduce similar tools to their products.

Ten device makers, including Apple, Samsung, Google and Verizon, signed a voluntary agreement promising to include tools that would enable smartphone users to lock their phones and wipe them clean of data if stolen, Reuters reports.

Starting in July 2015, all smartphones manufactured by the agreeing companies will come with either free anti-theft tools preloaded or readily available for download by users.

“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,” says Steve Largent, chief executive of the wireless association CTIA.

While the agreement is a step forward in the mission to save consumers the estimated $2.6 billion spent on insurance and replacements for stolen devices, it’s not quite enough for some kill-switch proponents.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon say in a joint statement that the protections are welcome but don’t 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.”

The agreement announcement is a far cry from CTIA’s past stance. The wireless industry trade group previously opposed anti-theft features saying that a hacker could exploit the feature to shut down the phones of consumers or law enforcement officials.

Some companies have already begun implementing anti-theft features. In September, Apple introduced Activation Lock, a program that allows consumers to render their devices useless once stolen.

Smartphone makers, carriers embrace anti-theft initiative [Reuters]