A handful of wireless handset makers and service providers have pledged to add a remote kill switch to their devices by 2015 in an attempt to curb theft. Companies such as Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and Google, along with AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, have all signed on to CTIA’s Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment program.
Under the program, all handsets manufactured after July 2015 will include a “baseline anti-theft tool” that is either preloaded or downloadable. It will only apply to devices sold in the United States.
According to CTIA, the anti-theft tool will have the following capabilities:
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 No. 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).
The program’s launch comes on the heels of growing demands from state legislators who want to see the smartphone industry play a more active role in combating theft. In February, California State Sen. Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) introduced a bill requiring all new smartphones to have a built-in kill switch by next year. Washington, D.C.’s chief of police has made similar requests.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 30 to 40 percent of robberies in the U.S. involve a mobile device.