By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated April 16, 2014.
After bucking against the concept of a smartphone kill switch, the CTIA trade group just announced the “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” to thwart smartphone thefts in the U.S. Apple, Google and Samsung are helping to lead the charge, along with HTC, Asurion, Motorola, Huawei, Nokia, Microsoft, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile, ATT&T and Sprint.
Participating device manufacturers and operating system makers have agreed that new models of smartphones manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States will offer a free pre-loaded or downloadable anti-theft tool. The tool will remotely wipe the data on stolen phones; render the device inoperable to unauthorized users; prevent reactivation without authorized user consent; and re-enable the device -- and restore its data -- if the owner recovers it.
“This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain,” said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA. “At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals. By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones.”
Legislators Ready to Pounce
The “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” adds to the multi-layered approach that already protects consumers and aids law enforcement. The protections include blacklist databases and consumer education as well as federal legislation that imposes strong penalties against smartphone thieves or those who illegally modify devices.
Public officials in cities across the country applauded the CTIA’s move. Minnesota State Representative Joe Atkins noted that his state’s legislature was poised to pass the nation's first “kill switch” law as early as next week. And Chicago Alderman Edward Burk, sponsor of pending legislation that seeks to mandate “kill switch” technology on all smartphones sold in Chicago, commended the smartphone industry.
“This is a move which is good for consumers and good for business, in my opinion,” said Rhode Island State Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio. “It gives consumers peace of mind and protects them from the threat of having their personal information exposed. The ability to make the system inoperable also eliminates much of the incentive for theft in the first place.”
Still Not Enough?
We caught up with Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, to get his take on the CTIA’s voluntary move. He told us it’s great news for the smartphone industry and consumers alike.
“I think the reason the industry got together to make this offer is it is better than a government imposed solution, which would be much more thorny to deal with,” Kagan said. “I think this solution makes a great deal of sense. I am also sure there will be more debate about the fine points.”
One point of contention Kagan predicts is whether the solution is automatically set up on every smartphone, or whether it will be opt-in. There are pros and cons either way, he said. Another issue is whether or not this will truly be an easy-to-use solution.
“It provides the protection to those who want it. Today, our smartphones already have the ability to program a PIN number before you can use the device,” Kagan said. “This is a great first level of protection, but not deep enough. This CTIA solution puts complete control in the customers' hands.”