Microsoft, Google announce progress against smartphone theft

Microsoft, Google announce progress against smartphone theft

Summary: Both Windows Phone and Android will include anti-theft features, including protection against factory reset.

SHARE:
dolcourt
(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Microsoft and Google announced on Thursday new features in their phone operating systems to combat smartphone theft.

Smartphone theft, known as "Apple picking" in some cases, has become a significant crime in some parts of the country. Law enforcement and prosecutors have been pressing the industry to institute a "kill switch" to disable stolen phones.

In response to the call, wireless industry group CTIA developed their Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. Software and hardware companies that sign on commit to implementing a series of anti-theft features by July 2015:

  1. Remote wipe the authorized user's data (i.e., erase personal info that is added after purchase such as contacts, photos, emails, etc.) that is on the smartphone in the event it is lost or stolen.

  2. Render the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (e.g., locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications, and if available, emergency numbers programmed by the authorized user (e.g., "phone home").

  3. Prevent reactivation without authorized user's permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible (e.g., locking the smartphone as in 2 above).

  4. Reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user and restore user data on the smartphone to the extent feasible (e.g., restored from the cloud).

Microsoft's announcement notes that they committed in April to follow the CTIA's guidelines and that they will be meeting the commitment before the July 2015 deadline. When it is available, it "...will be offered as an update for all phones running Windows Phone 8.0 and newer, though availability is subject to mobile operator and phone manufacturer approval."

Microsoft has already met many of these goals with Windows Phone's Find My Phone feature, as we noted in a story last September. The same story described Android Device Manager, which also matches many of the CTIA feature commitments.

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet: "Yes, the next version of Android will include a factory reset protection solution to help deter smartphone theft. We will be releasing more details shortly."

But Apple has been the leader in this area, having delivered factory-reset protection with iOS 7.

The CTIA lists these companies as participating in the commitment: Apple; Asurion; AT&T; Google; HTC America; Huawei Device USA; LG Electronics MobileComm USA; Motorola Mobility; Microsoft; Nokia; Samsung Telecommunications America; Sprint; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; Verizon Wireless; and ZTE USA, Inc.

Widespread availability and use of these features should dampen the incentive to steal mobile phones. As Microsoft points out, other methods work in tandem with these to fight smartphone theft, such as when carriers check phones against a multinational stolen phone database before activating it on their network.

Topics: Security, Android, iPhone, Windows Phone

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

6 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Is it so hard...

    ...to mention that since Apple implemented the kill-switch function in iOS7, iPhone and iPad thefts have dropped considerably and this success is likely the reason for this adoption by Microsoft and Google?
    rfoto
    • really?!

      My SG II on Spring has had the "kill switch" through an insurance company since I bought it in 2011 or so. Now if you read this article you will understand why at least Google has not done it yet. "U.S. carriers block Samsung's kill switch alternative to Apple's iOS 7 Activation Lock"
      pupkin_z
  • Read the article.

    He did mention that Apple implemented the kill-switch function in iOS7.

    But the reason they are doing it - as it says in the article - "wireless industry group CTIA developed their Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. Software and hardware companies that sign on commit to implementing a series of anti-theft features by July 2015:"

    The point of these discussions is to discuss the article. That is so much easier if you read the article.

    Once fanboi knee-jerk instincts trump human intelligence, you cease to our problem, and become your own. Good Luck!
    Heenan73
  • Read my comment.

    I know he mentioned Apple implemented the kill-switch function. What should have been mentioned and what is germane to the discussion is the fact that iOS device thefts have dropped and is likely a very significant force in getting these commitments.

    Are we only allowed to comment on articles about articles? ...or can we expand the discussion and point out an omission without having someone play the fanboi card?
    rfoto
  • Gagdet protection

    Its really nice to see these big organizations do something for these phone theft cases. I hope they develop a app that will solve this, and announce it asap.
    catherinej02
  • Gagdet protection

    Its really nice to see these big organizations do something for these phone theft cases. I hope they develop a app that will solve this, and announce it asap.
    catherinej02