For years now, wireless companies have been fighting against any substantive database to track stolen phones due to the profitability for the carriers if they do nothing and cash in on stolen phone re-activations. Then two years ago, AT&T was sued for doing nothing to prevent cell-phone threats and therefore agreed (with other wireless carriers) to collaborate on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones through their IMEI numbers. But since the beginning, law enforcement has complained that the database has proven ineffective because many phones wind up overseas.
Cellular carriers in the U.S. want you to think they have your best interests at heart. That, hey, if your smartphone gets lost or stolen, they will have your back. At least that’s what those carriers would have you believe with a new smartphone “kill switch” proposal from the CTIA, the largest U.S. trade organization that supports the cellular operators.
Unfortunately, the CTIA’s new proposal looks a lot more like it is covering its bases to avoid state and federal regulation than going out of its way to altruistically help users of lost or stolen smartphones. The CTIA is putting the onus of anti-theft software on the platform makers and device manufacturers. The biggest carriers—Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint—are able to ride on the technology of others while hiding behind the CTIA for policy protection. In the end, nothing will drastically change for smartphone users in the U.S. The carriers win by protecting the lucrative smartphone insurance business while letting other companies do the heavy lifting.
On Thursday, California and Minnesota took steps toward becoming the first states in the country to pass laws requiring smartphones to feature stronger anti-theft technology. The California Senate approved a measure that would require every smartphone sold in California to include a so-called kill switch that allows victims of theft to disable a stolen device. The bill fines retailers between $500 and $2,500 for selling smartphones without a kill switch. Apple and Microsoft dropped their opposition to the bill once tablets were excluded from the requirement and extending the deadline to July 2015.
The Minnesota House of Representatives also passed a bill requiring smartphones and tablets sold in that state after July 1, 2015, to feature a kill switch.
Both bills featured strong opposition from the wireless industry. There reason for the opposition was due to the legislation being so-called “unnecessary” and would “stifle innovation.” Phone companies also claim that they have already taken steps to protect consumers from theft through a stolen phone database and voluntarily committing last month to offer free anti-theft features on all phones made after July 2015…..which law enforcement continues opposing.
Law enforcement officials have been pressing the industry to introduce new technology to reduce the rising number of smartphone thefts nationwide. About 3.1 million phones were stolen in the U.S. in 2013, nearly double the number of thefts from the previous year, according to Consumer Reports.