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Apple, Google, Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft attending anti device theft conference

Due to a major rise in smartphone theft, New York's Attorney General has summoned several companies for a discussion about implementing a kill switch button into future devices.
June 6, 2013
Stolen phones
Image Credit: Photo West Midlands Police (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Cult of Mac

Stealing smartphones may be a way of life for some people, and with the advance of technology, cashing in on a stolen device sold at half its listed price could be quite a deal. As recent reports show, cellphone theft in New York and various other cities from the United States has increased by almost 40% since last year.

In order to prevent further theft increases and, hopefully, extinguish this disease, New York’s Attorney General Erich Schneiderman has taken the bald decision of inviting various smartphone makers and partners to a conference on the matter, which will take place on June 13 in the Big Apple. Among those summoned, companies like Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google and Microsoft are included.

The guest list has been tactically composed to include those manufacturers that are responsible for around 90% of all smartphone sales.

Smartphone theft, a huge problem today

Empowered by the “state’s deceptive trade practices law” and helped by San Francisco’s Attorney George Gascon, NY’s representative will try to convince product markers to include a sort of a kill switch feature inside every future released device, which should render any tablet or smartphone completely useless once activated after the device is stolen.

Implementing such an official feature into all products, not only Android-based devices, should decrease theft rates dramatically, as most crimes of this sort have a simple goal in mind, selling the stollen device for a profit. Once an Android phone is stolen, it can be easily wiped clean using the casual hard-reset procedure or through third-party applications like ClockworkMod, and then sold at a much cheaper price.

Few are those who can withstand the temptation of purchasing a high-end device at half of price. Criminals also benefit from the trade, as they’re getting paid nicely for a few minutes of “work.” Unfortunately, when greed exceeds good sense, violent events take place and there have been cases where owners have been even killed for their devices.

stolen phone

Will manufacturers agree?

Looking at the financial side of things, you could think they have no reasons of doing so. When someone loses their device, vendors generally benefit from the unfortunate event by turning a profit on a device that serves as a replacement.

Fortunately, there are other principles at stake. At the beginning of April, Gascon called Tim Cook for a similar discussion over the same matter. Apple replied via its Government Liaison Michael Foulkes, who concluded the process of elaborating such technologies would be long and complicated.

Hopefully, with a larger mechanism in motion and with more participants present at this discussion tides will turn around. We personally place our trust in Google, which has proved of being a freedom-fighter on various occasions.

Perhaps the meeting will have even more effect if carriers would also be invited to attend this discussion. Using a product’s IMEI, a unique identifier for each device, mobile operators can remotely black-list stolen devices to prevent them from being used in a certain market. Unfortunately, this can also be used against consumers, as products are black-listed only after filing an official complaint, and in the meantime the thief can already sell them to unsuspecting buyers.

Until a solution is in place, lawful Android users can protect their device and prevent losing personal data alongside their handy mobile assistant by appealing to an external protective solution, which can locate, erase or block devices from the distance.