Greedy wireless carriers aren't interested in smartphone kill switch to curb phone theft

By on November 20, 2013, 7:15 AM
insurance, wireless carriers, kill switch, anti-theft plans, secure our smartphones

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.




User Comments: 25

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2 people like this | ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

"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."

Most thieves aren't this smart. If they were, they would be stealing far more valuable things.

2 people like this | Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

I've always said that wireless carriers are far bigger criminals than the criminals themselves and it's not just limited to their industry. They just have the law on their side when it comes to robbing people blind. I mean how else are the exec's supposed to own and maintain 3 luxury houses, 2 luxury condo's, 3 luxury vehicles per household member, expensive private schools, an oily mouthpiece who knows the in's and out's of tax evasion and on top of that, an extremely expensive coke addiction.

Ah yes, there's nothing better than capitalism.

Guest said:

Their motive might be greed, and I'm not siding up with them, but I'm happy that - for now - I won't have a kill switch in my phone that allows someone to deactivate it remotely for whatever reason.

Have they thought that lower phone prices might have the same crime-reducing effect? Just saying.

nazartp said:

I think it's a matter of time before one of the manufacturers still goes for it and starts advertising it as a feature. It has great profit potential for the manufacturer to introduce such a thing and at some point the carriers would need to cave in.

Also imagine how much negative publicity will follow once this article hits general media.

Seventh Reign Seventh Reign said:

"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."

Most thieves aren't this smart. If they were, they would be stealing far more valuable things.

What Sim Card???? What Battery ??? ... Hello Nexus Devices, Hello HTC One, Hello Galaxy S4 ... You wanna rethink your answer?

insect said:

There are multiple options for free already including Avast AntiVirus with Anti-Theft. I can send an SMS text to my phone to make it do all sorts of fun things if stolen, including taking a picture and e-mailing to to me with the location, setting off an alert, setting the homescreen to a message that says "THIS PHONE IS STOLEN" ,or doing a complete hard-wipe and bricking the device (if you have root access).

Also, CyanogenMod (available for most of the latest android phones) comes with CM Account that can be used to find my phone, wipe it, brick it, etc. I have that installed as well.

Obviously, all of these can be circumvented if the thief puts the phone in download mode and wipes the NAND, but then so what? Yes I'm out a phone, but all my private data is safe.

Sounds like consumers need to be better informed of their options.

ghasmanjr ghasmanjr said:

What Sim Card???? What Battery ??? ... Hello Nexus Devices, Hello HTC One, Hello Galaxy S4 ... You wanna rethink your answer?

I have a Galaxy S4 and I can easily get to both my sim card and my battery. Are you thinking iPhone?

Guest said:

"Either way, it's a step in the right direction..."

Mr. Knight, I think you've been puffing the magic dragon.

Why would anyone give into such blatant security and privacy trojen? I wouldn't want anyone having the ability to willy-nilly shut my phone down.

cmbjive said:

Wait a minute. This article is saying that the telcos are against an anti-theft provision installed on cell phones because it would cut into their profits to sell insurance plans. How so? The anti-theft provision presumably stops the phone from not working but it does not stop the theft so the telco would still have opportunities to sell the insurance plans on their phones.

I don't want to be skeptical of the San Fran attorney's assertion, but I would prefer to read the emails he has as opposed to taking his word that that is the reason the telcos are against the kill switch because his reasoning doesn't add up.

MilwaukeeMike said:

I've always said that wireless carriers are far bigger criminals than the criminals themselves and it's not just limited to their industry. They just have the law on their side when it comes to robbing people blind. I mean how else are the exec's supposed to own and maintain 3 luxury houses, 2 luxury condo's, 3 luxury vehicles per household member, expensive private schools, an oily mouthpiece who knows the in's and out's of tax evasion and on top of that, an extremely expensive coke addiction.

Ah yes, there's nothing better than capitalism.

One big difference. 'Robbing' involves taking something against someone's will. Customers are very willingly giving the carriers their money. And for every rich exec with a yacht, there are a few thousand worker bees making 30k a year. Who do you think is going to get hours or benefits cut when the carriers lost a ton of revenue? You think the exec is going to cancel the country club membership, or do you think they'll freeze raises and/or lay people off? Take off your 'greedy corporation' goggles and put on your 'common sense' hat.

Capitalism, and all it's greed, is based on competition. The carriers provide the lowest price possible while trying to stay in the black, and many of them fail. T-mo and Sprint for example, aren't exactly swimming in money (Greedy 'ol Sprint loses around $3 billion a year, for example). How does this fit into insurance cost and phone theft? Because the projected revenue from insurance is part of the formula that carriers use when building their plans and pricing. If all of a sudden a law is passed that takes a big chunk out of their revenue, they'll have to raise rates to compensate. The ignorant call this 'greed' the rest of us call it 'accounting.'.

Money aside, who wants the carrier to be able to kill your phone if you miss a couple payments?

Guest said:

Ah yes, there's nothing better than capitalism.

Capitalism, in spite of its flaws, is always better then any economic system out there. That's a fact.

hahahanoobs hahahanoobs said:

"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."

Most thieves aren't this smart. If they were, they would be stealing far more valuable things.

In London alone their are thousands of phones stolen. I saw it on the latest episode of Caught on Camera. And you know how many cameras they have in London. They even have a name for it, Apple picking.

They have elaborate schemes like coming to you while you're at a restaurant pretending to be doing a survey, as they cover your phone layin on the table in front of you with their clipboard, they grab it and hide your phone under it and walk away before you notice it gone.

I'll admit I found an iPhone 4 on the ground once at 5 in the morning and reset the phone, took the sim out (Virgin mobile), and but my Bell SIM in (both are compatible) and it worked while I used it for a month, until I sold it on kijiji for $400cdn.

I'm not bragging, but just saying it is very easy to do and phones are worth money. Carriers could blacklist the IMEI, but they won't for the reason mentioned in the article. Probably the same reason you don't need a PIN to make purchases with credit cards. There is money to be made for both sides.

jester376 said:

To me personally, I'm on board with the whole killswitch thing, sorry you might lose insurance money carriers, but im all for upgraded security, and you wouldnt lose insurance, people would still need to replace their phone once its stolen. Its not like the thief's gonna return it after they went through all the trouble of stealing it. Bunch of ******* companies. I don't know how that even counted as an excuse. Where did they companies executives go for college? The National Institution of Stupidity.

jester376 said:

On another note, two ideas popped into my head when I read this. If the police and other included parties are pushing this on the carriers, instead of pushing this on the carriers to install it on their phones, why don't they or a third party set up a download server for the public to download the app to install on their phone, so that way its an option for the public to install it and the public doesnt have to worry about the companies killing their phones after a couple of missed payments? Which I doubt would happen anyway because you wont get money from a customer if they dont have a reason to pay their bill anymore. Also, if they want a killswitch like that, they should set it up to where the phone's owner could set up a code to activate the killswitch by sending a text to the phone with that specific code, instead of having a free-to-all killswitch so that carriers aren't worried about killswitch signals being sent out mistakenly.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'm not OK with this kill switch idea. What would stop a person from using the kill switch for malicious intent? I personally wouldn't have anything to worry about. I'm not that important and don't have a target painted on my back. But for those how are important, would you want your phone dying because someone figured out how to trip the kill switch just before they decided to attack.

A kill switch in a phone would resemble a dead phone. Whats to stop the carrier from randomly selecting a phone for upgrade by using the kill switch? This would be the perfect way to maximize revenue. No more need for planned obsolescence when you can engineer a dead-line.

Please people think about what this could mean, if it was brought into play.

Besides why would the carrier want to take responsibility for consumer irresponsibility? If you don't know when your phone is stolen and don't report it ASAP, you should be responsible for additional charges made on the phone.

jester376 said:

I'm not OK with this kill switch idea. What would stop a person from using the kill switch for malicious intent? I personally wouldn't have anything to worry about. I'm not that important and don't have a target painted on my back. But for those how are important, would you want your phone dying because someone figured out how to trip the kill switch just before they decided to attack.

A kill switch in a phone would resemble a dead phone. Whats to stop the carrier from randomly selecting a phone for upgrade by using the kill switch? This would be the perfect way to maximize revenue. No more need for planned obsolescence when you can engineer a dead-line.

Please people think about what this could mean, if it was brought into play.

Refer to my second post, would you be okay with that if they had it set up like that?

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Refer to my second post, would you be okay with that if they had it set up like that?
Actually I think phones should be two piece. Much the way the Coin works. If the phone is taken and is separated from the second piece, it stops working. As long as you have both pieces on you the phone works. Call it a key chain activating device for lack of a better phrase.

And if plugged directly into the phone, the activating radio signal would no longer be needed.

jester376 said:

Actually I think phones should be two piece. Much the way the Coin works. If the phone is taken and is separated from the second piece, it stops working. As long as you have both pieces on you the phone works. Call it a key chain activating device for lack of a better phrase.

And if plugged directly into the phone, the activating radio signal would no longer be needed.

The problem I forsee with this method is that customers could potentially lose a piece and make the phone useless, not to mention if this became a habit for customers, the carriers could potentially lose money because they would be replacing more items then what they were getting in insurance.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The problem I forsee with this method is that customers could potentially lose a piece
Regardless that is the only way I would want a phone with a kill switch. Hardware controlled not software. I don't want anything to have a kill switch outside of my control.

There has even been talks about kill switches in the auto industry. Can you imagine the dealership screwing up one of your payments? And then pressing the kill switch on your ride as you are driving down the freeway? Say no to kill switches before you are not the one that controls what you have in your possession.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

One big difference. 'Robbing' involves taking something against someone's will. Customers are very willingly giving the carriers their money. And for every rich exec with a yacht, there are a few thousand worker bees making 30k a year. Who do you think is going to get hours or benefits cut when the carriers lost a ton of revenue? You think the exec is going to cancel the country club membership, or do you think they'll freeze raises and/or lay people off? Take off your 'greedy corporation' goggles and put on your 'common sense' hat.

Capitalism, and all it's greed, is based on competition. The carriers provide the lowest price possible while trying to stay in the black, and many of them fail. T-mo and Sprint for example, aren't exactly swimming in money (Greedy 'ol Sprint loses around $3 billion a year, for example). How does this fit into insurance cost and phone theft? Because the projected revenue from insurance is part of the formula that carriers use when building their plans and pricing. If all of a sudden a law is passed that takes a big chunk out of their revenue, they'll have to raise rates to compensate. The ignorant call this 'greed' the rest of us call it 'accounting.'.

Money aside, who wants the carrier to be able to kill your phone if you miss a couple payments?

I am just being cynical. No need to go into great detail about it because I couldn't care less about them. All cellphone users need a carrier but I'm damned if I'll ever take out a contract with any of them. I use pre-paid and insure my device through my insurance company. Saves me a packet.

treetops treetops said:

Thats why you should sell your 600$ phone on ebay then claim it was stolen, replacing it for 25-100$

jester376 said:

Thats why you should sell your 600$ phone on ebay then claim it was stolen, replacing it for 25-100$

Good job, it's good to know there's some greedy people out there as bad as the corporations. That's why greedy corporations exist in the first place.

Artistar said:

In London alone their are thousands of phones stolen. I saw it on the latest episode of Caught on Camera. And you know how many cameras they have in London. They even have a name for it, Apple picking.

They have elaborate schemes like coming to you while you're at a restaurant pretending to be doing a survey, as they cover your phone layin on the table in front of you with their clipboard, they grab it and hide your phone under it and walk away before you notice it gone.

I'll admit I found an iPhone 4 on the ground once at 5 in the morning and reset the phone, took the sim out (Virgin mobile), and but my Bell SIM in (both are compatible) and it worked while I used it for a month, until I sold it on kijiji for $400cdn.

I'm not bragging, but just saying it is very easy to do and phones are worth money. Carriers could blacklist the IMEI, but they won't for the reason mentioned in the article. Probably the same reason you don't need a PIN to make purchases with credit cards. There is money to be made for both sides.

You mate are just thieving 'Pikey Scum': didn't occur to you to hand it in to the local Police Station, did it......NO, you just thought...result, a free iPhone 4! No better than the Sh1ts who take from your pockets.

Guest said:

You guys do realize that this system is pretty much already in place? Carriers can manually block imei numbers and make your phone a paper weight for the most part. Can't be used on any wireless network, at all. No matter what sim card you put in it.

So yea, no need to put something in place that is already there.

As for the insurance idea that some user had, they block the old imei when you report that phone stolen. Thus making it a brick.

Guest said:

I don't know how its done in the USA, but here in Canada they already have this. Phone stolen? call your carrier and report it. IMIE is locked and phone is useless.

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