Apple, Google, Samsung agree to support smartphone kill switches

Apple, Google, Samsung agree to support smartphone kill switches

Summary: Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft have all committed to a voluntary agreement to include kill switches in future mobile devices.

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Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft are among technology vendors that have agreed to introduce anti-theft smartphone kill switches in future devices.

The theft of smartphones is a rising problem. The devices are small, easily swiped, and valuable; and at the moment, there are few solutions that will deter criminals from earning a few dollars by pinching these devices.

But what if a user could remotely turn their gadget in to a brick, rendering the item useless?

According to William Duckworth, Associate Professor of statistics, data science, and analytics at Creighton University, anti-theft technology could save device owners up to $2.6 billion a year.

Device manufacturers have begun adding additional security to devices, such as Apple's Find My iPhone feature in iOS7 and similar feature updates to Android's device manager, but carriers and firms that profit through theft — whether by insurance or replacing stolen handsets — have dragged their feet and hampered progression in the area.

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Prosecutors seek 'kill switch' to prevent theft and 'Apple picking'

Prosecutors seek 'kill switch' to prevent theft and 'Apple picking'

U.S. prosectors are hoping that a "kill switch" function will deter the theft of mobile gadgets.

While there has been resistance to the idea of a kill switch, companies have bowed to pressure. Starting July 2015, a number of heavyweights in the mobile device category have committed to introduce kill switches that let users remotely lock and wipe their handsets if they are stolen.

Wireless association CTIA says:

"Each device manufacturer and operating system signatory of Part I of this 'Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment' agrees that new models of smartphones first manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States will offer, at no cost to consumers, a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones."

CTIA says that the initiative means vendors will include anti-theft tools for free, already installed on devices or available for download. Contacts, emails, images, and personal data can be wiped remotely, the smartphone will be rendered inoperable without a password or PIN — except for emergency calls — and software must also "prevent reactivation without authorized the user's permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible."

In a move that can only benefit consumers, vendors including well-known brands have agreed to introduce the feature. The full list of participating companies are Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC America, Huawei Device USA, Motorola Mobility LLC, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless.

Sadly for those of us in countries other than the US, the agreement does not cover our mobile devices. However, we can hope that the initiative will be available for all consumers no matter where they live.

Topics: Apple, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, Mobility, Samsung

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14 comments
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  • Remote kill?

    Hmmm....if that isn't entirely secure, that could be exploited by criminals to render your only method of calls for help etc, useless on demand....leaving vulnerable people helpless....
    Carl White
    • Undo

      It doesn't need to be impossible to revert. To stop crimes of opportunity: If a phone is tied to an account, a factory reset should require the account password. Also, support remote lock, which changes the lock screen to a lock screen that requires the account password. Or even simpler, ask for the password once a week by default (can be turned off in settings).
      Organized crime and tech enthusiasts can still get around it, but neither are responsible for stealing most of the devices.
      Sacr
  • What's new pussy cat?

    We already have remote wipe services for all operating systems used in smartphones and you have been able to call the carrier up and get the IMEI blocked since the early 90s, effectively making the device useless for calls, SMS and mobile data.
    wright_is
    • Doesn't seem to work as a deterrent

      Not sure how a remote wipe makes the device useless to the thief. Cross-carrier IMEI blocking is the answer, but somehow it isn't known widely enough to serve as an effective deterrent - and if we consider tablets as well, it won't work on those.
      Sacr
      • It's a deterrent because...

        We don't really care about the phone, just the data it contains. If we can wipe that, we just get another handset, sync with our cloud, and everything's restored.
        meski.oz@...
  • iOS7 activation lock

    Already provides that function to render the phone useless.
    The key to combat theft would be IMEI tracking by the carriers to actually facilitate recovery rathen than just brick a phone.
    It is easily done but the carriers don't want to bear the responsibility and only do it for high level law enforcement.
    They don't want to help you get your phone back because tbey want you to buy another one.
    warboat
    • IMEI is easily spoofed and is useless

      Only UICC is seen as a trusted and authenticated part of the UE (phone).
      IMEI is similar to MAC address of the mobile shell and is prone to spoofing.
      Use of unauthenticated identity to make a decision to kill/wipe is not recommended.

      In addition, in our litigious society, such ability to kill will bring liability to its providers. Just imagine that your phone is killed/wiped by either mistake or maliciously when you are making an important call.
      sm-aleck
      • mobile carriers

        Do not have any ability to track device id. The best they can do is IMEI.
        The point is about recovery and not killing it and sending phones to the scrapheap. Right now, they will happily ban an IMEI number but won't bother trying to locate a stolen IMEI unless forced by law enforcement.
        They can easily do it, they just don't want to.
        warboat
  • T-Mobile / Android

    Android already has an app that does this called "Lookout". You can login to their website, track your cell via GPS, find it from being misplaced with a siren{even if cell is on silent/vibrate}, and if desperate measures call for it ... wipe it. T-Mobile actually now offers it as an added service, up to 4 phones for $30/year.
    Troy Weisbrod
    • Did you read the article?

      You do realize the point, right? That this will be offered FOR FREE.......
      vermonter
  • Who cares about that!

    I want a phone that will last longer than 1 - 1 1/2 years. They won't even out last a contract plan!!!!!!! What a joke this industry/business is!!!!!!!

    My last phone lasted 9 months! FIX THE PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!!
    r1r1p1@...
    • What do you do?

      I have yet to have to replace either my wife's or my phone over the last 10 years, and that's at least 4 different phones each.
      vermonter
  • Easy for Apple: It's already there.

    "Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft are among technology vendors that have agreed to introduce anti-theft smartphone kill switches in future devices."

    Easy for Apple: It's already there. I can already do such a thing via iCloud.
    CobraA1
    • the problem is recovery

      If they remove the SIM card, they only way of tracking an iphone if it gets switched on is via IMEI broadcast which carriers are able to triangulate and locate.
      Being able to remote kill is a good safety net, but it would be even better to be able to receover the phone and possibly apprehend the thief.
      If thieves knew every phone was locatable if stolen and they could get tracked down even if they removed the SIM, they might not be so keen to nick your phone.
      warboat