The CTIA wireless association announced this week an agreement with other wireless companies and smartphone makers to include a kill-switch starting July 2015, which can be pre-installed or downloadable on wireless smartphones for free. The move is expected to diminish the number of smartphone thefts that take place each year.
According to the CTIA, when a smartphone is lost or stolen, the device owner can use the free tool to remote wipe all data. The phone can also be rendered useless by remotely locking the device with a password or PIN number. Users can even prevent reactivation without an authorized user's permission, and reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user.
The new "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" is the most recent effort by the industry to deter smartphone thefts in the U.S. As the title indicates, this move is completely voluntary, and includes the following participants: Apple Inc.; Asurion; AT&T; Google Inc.; HTC America, Inc.; Huawei Device USA; Motorola Mobility LLC; Microsoft Corporation; Nokia, Inc.; Samsung Telecommunications America, L.P.; Sprint Corporation; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless.
"We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen. 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," said Steve Largent, President and CEO, CTIA.
Apple has already done its part with the iPhone, as iOS 7 features a service called "Activation Lock" that prevents a lost or stolen iPhone from being reactivated (even if the device is reset). This service automatically turns on when users turn on Find My Phone, allowing them to erase the device, turn off Find My Phone on the device, and then reactivate and use the device.
Google has done its part as well with the Android Device Manager. Users can go online to lock their Android device, erase all data, and send a ringtone in case the device is somewhere in the near vicinity. The web interface includes a large map, showing users exactly where the device is if the GPS is still on.
"It's important different technologies are available so that a 'trap door' isn't created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals," said Largent. "By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users' personal information on smartphones."
Minnesota State Representative Joe Atkins said that the Minnesota legislature is poised to pass the nation's first 'kill switch' law as early as next week. California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have also proposed a mandatory kill switch law.