by Bill Snyder

It’s Time to Force Wireless Carriers to Crack Down on Smartphone Theft

Dec 12, 20133 mins
Consumer ElectronicsSmartphones

An easy solution exists that could radically reduce the incentive for people to steal your smartphone. But wireless carriers are resisting because it could put a dent in their profits. Here's how to force them to take action.

Wouldn’t it be great if the technology companies we pay for products and services actually cared about us? The fact is, most of them don’t. Wireless carriers that refuse to adopt a solution to the out-of-control problem of smartphone theft are a perfect example. 


You probably know that smartphone theft has become endemic in many cities, including here in San Francisco, and many of the crimes turn into assaults, which are sometimes fatal. There’s absolutely no excuse for wireless carriers to block a common sense solution developed by hardware makers including Apple and Samsung.

But they are blocking it. And so far, I haven’t seen Congress or regulatory agencies do much beyond talk. It’s time, I think, for smartphone users to exert some pressure and demand action. Step one: Sign this petition on Sponsored by “Secure our Smartphone,” a group started by a number of law enforcement officials, including George Gascon, (pictured at left), the District Attorney of San Francisco, and Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York State. From the petition:

“The implementation of a ‘kill switch’ would render stolen devices inoperable on any network, anywhere in the world.  Such a feature would disable the device even if it is turned off or the SIM card has been removed.  By eliminating the ability for the phone to be reactivated, the value of these mobile communications devices would be equivalent to that of a paperweight.  As a result, the incentive to steal them would be eliminated.” 

Apple already has a version of the kill switch built into iOS 7, and Samsung proposed installing something similar in its phones. The feature would allow users to “brick” their phones, or disable the devices remotely, to discourage criminals from stealing them.

The carriers said no, and on Tuesday, New York’s Schneiderman, sent letters seeking information to the chief executives of five carriers: Randall L. Stephenson of AT&T; Daniel S. Mead of Verizon Wireless; Daniel R. Hesse of Sprint, John Legere of T-Mobile U.S.A. and Kenneth R. Meyers of U.S. Cellular.

The carriers have a lot of excuses, including the really outlandish idea that hackers will somehow use the kill switch to disable smartphones of government officials. The real reason has to do with profits: profits from selling theft insurance and selling new phones to customers who’ve been ripped off.

Start by signing the petition. If you feel as strongly about this as I do and have the time, take a minute and send an email to your state and national representatives. If consumers don’t make a lot of noise, nothing will happen. Who knows? You could be the next person to be seriously injured during a cell phone robbery.