8 Comments

Summary:

The district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of New York would like to know why Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola haven’t yet made a phone with a “kill switch.”

crime scene

Smartphone thefts are a huge problem: if you haven’t had one stolen from you, you very likely know someone who has — and possibly in a violent way. But whose problem is this? Two elected officials are pointing fingers at the manufacturers of your smartphone.

On June 13, representatives from Apple, Google (parent company of Motorola), Microsoft and Samsung are meeting with top law enforcement officials in the U.S.’s two biggest markets for smartphone thefts, San Francisco and New York City: SF District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The two will demand to know why these companies haven’t made smartphones harder to steal or at least less attractive to thieves.

Gascón is calling it “a national epidemic” and Schneiderman says it’s about time for these companies “to be as innovative solving this problem as they have been in designing devices.”

From the joint press release issued by their offices on Wednesday.

At the meeting, which will take place on June 13 at Schneiderman’s office in New York City, Gascón and Schneiderman will press cell phone manufacturers and mobile operating system suppliers on their failure thus far to produce technology that would allow stolen devices to be rendered permanently inoperable and that would, therefore, eliminate incentives for theft. Representatives from Apple, Google/Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft will attend.

It appears current measures in place aren’t helping cut down on the problem. Carriers and the FCC worked together last year to create a national stolen phone database to prevent resale, and third-party consumer electronics resellers have also stepped up their efforts to prevent subsequent selling of stolen devices. Yet half of the robberies in San Francisco last year involved a smartphone, and New York City thefts ticked up last year as more Apple device thefts were reported.

Clearly Gascón and Schneiderman want the manufacturers to take a larger role in helping to stop these thefts beyond things like the ability to remote wipe a device through Find My iPhone — which would be nice. However, declaring their “failure to produce technology that would allow stolen devices to be rendered permanently inoperable” seems just a bit unfair. That seems like asking — since 700,000 cars were stolen in 2011 — why automakers haven’t created cars that aren’t drivable if they’re stolen.

In both cases, that seems like a great idea, but it’s probably just a bit more complicated than Gascón and Schneiderman are assuming.

Thumnail image courtesy of Flickr user Tex Texin.

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  1. “In both cases, that seems like a great idea, but it’s probably just a bit more complicated than Gascón and Schneiderman are assuming.”_It is a terrible idea._Do you really want your car and phone to have a remote kill switch which hackers could hack into to permanently obliterate your car or phone. This is a text book example of the defective by design idea.__BAD idea.

  2. Henry Robinson Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Actually, cars can do this already. GM did it in 2009. I’m sure there are others by now.

    http://www.gadgetreview.com/2009/07/gm-adds-remote-kill-switch-to-onstar-vehicles.html

    The carriers won’t play a role, because they are more than happy to get the business from customers who buy stolen phones. A “kill switch” would render many phones useless, and hence unable to be connected to service.

    For the carriers it’s a wash. On one hand, the market for stolen phones cannibalizes the market for new phones; especially lower end new phones. But, the customer whose phone gets stolen ends up buying another one.

    Personally, I think the manufacturers should have taken a leadership role on this issue. Find my iPhone is a joke, when the solution for the thief is to simply wipe the device. The stolen phone database is also a joke. I have some experience in the secondary market for mobile phones. The promise of a new customer, makes providers look the other way when it comes to connecting a phone off of the street.

    1. edit above: should say “For the Manufacturers, it’s a wash.”

  3. Marcel La Brecque Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Yeah, but how many people report a mobile “Stolen” when it was in fact damaged or lost, just to get a insurance claim going to save a few bucks.

    Not long ago on Wired one of the writers had his apple account hacked and they wiped all his cloud stuff and nuked his phone, laptop etc. So you run that risk as well.

    We do have the ability to wipe a BB from our BES server.
    With our iPhones we have a lock code, after 10 attempts, nuked.
    We can do a partial wipe on the iPhones right now.

    There are many options, and law enforcement have more options too.
    Some “user” lost a phone at an event, the local PD was able to get AT&T to keep turning it on and activate the locator and alerts, the thief kept turning it off before ditching it in a bush. Took about 15 minutes to recover, BUT that was with a fast “hey where’s my phone and a cop bored and waiting for action”

  4. These 2 knuckle heads need to take more responsibility for fighting crime.

    Are they going to point the finger at car manufacturers for auto theft, credit card companies for fraud, bike makers for theft as well?! …and they have quite a bit to learn about the black market, just because it’s inoperable here in the US doesn’t mean it can’t be activated in other countries where your crappy Iphone is being shipped to.

  5. these already exist…LoJack does excatly that for cars and there third party apps likeTekTrak, did these socalled law makers or the writer of the column research anything before trhey started asking “why arent there?”

  6. rafaelpadgett Thursday, June 6, 2013

    Smartphones are quite useful today because of its applications and softwares we can install. Mobile tracker can help locate certain mobile unit and at the same time the location of the culprit, somehow it help the authorities capture bad elements.

  7. Nancy Marquez Thursday, June 13, 2013

    Everyone deserve to be safe but let’s admit that their are a lot of things that may happen in a single second. Any incident that may lead us into horrible danger. No matter where we go what we wanted to do. We could never predict circumstances because even those people whom we trust could never give us a guarantee. Good thing I heard about this safety service. Making me feel that I’m not alone.In just a press of a panic button I know help will come.

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