Earlier this year we profiled a smartphone initiative known as Secure Our Smartphones. Backed by law enforcement officials and consumer advocates, the goal was to reduce cell phone theft by getting handset manufacturers and wireless carriers hip to the idea of creating a remote kill switch that would render stolen phones useless.
A software kill switch is a great idea as consumers wouldn’t have to worry about their phones being the target of crooks. Manufacturers would seemingly have little to lose but it’s the greedy wireless carriers that are proving to be the most difficult to convince.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has been working hard to get manufacturers on board with the idea but he found carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon aren’t cooperating and now, he knows why.
He recently came across an e-mail thread between Samsung and various carriers. In it, the carriers said they don’t want anti-theft systems installed on phones on their networks because it would eat into the profit they make from insurance plans sold to customers that cover lost or stolen phones. With a dramatic drop in phone theft, customers would no longer need to purchase these expensive insurance plans.
A software kill switch is far from a perfect solution as thieves could simply turn off the phone and swap out the SIM card before the shutoff signal could be sent. There’s also the concern that signals could be mistakenly sent (or perhaps, on purpose) to phones that shouldn’t be deactivated.
Either way, it’s a step in the right direction and appalling to hear that carriers are more interested in padding their own financial statements than taking steps to reduce crime.