Why Cell Phone Carriers Are Against A Kill Switch For Stolen Phones

Lawmakers have been pushing cell phone makers to implement anti-theft software that can remotely deactivate a stolen phone, but carriers don't like the idea very much.

San Francisco and New York lawmakers have been pushing hardware makers like Samsung to provide anti-theft software for cell phones that would allow owners to remotely deactivate a phone should it get stolen, rendering it useless. But according to the San Francisco district attorney, George Gascón, carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint aren't crazy about the idea of implementing such a "kill switch." Why? Because they'd lose money.

Gascón says emails he obtained between a Samsung executive and a software developer indicate carriers don't want anti-theft software for fear it would eat into the profits those carriers generate from selling phone insurance programs. Verizon, for example, sells a total equipment coverage plan that covers loss and theft for $10 a month. Although that doesn't sound like much, it will amount to $240 over the course of a standard two-year contract.

The carriers have argued against a kill switch anti-theft feature, citing abusive hackers as a potential concern.

Gascón tells the New York Times: "We have repeatedly requested that the carriers take steps to protect their customers. We are now evaluating what course of action will be necessary to force them to prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets."

[Image: Flickr user Johan Larsson]

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7 Comments

  • MnVoiceofReason

    This article makes no sense. I might be reading it wrong, but why the heck would people still not need insurance for their phone? A kill switch might deter theft a bit, but people wil still steal phones and phones will still break. I bet the chance of a phone falling into a toilet is 20 times more likely than having it stolen. Correct me if I'm missing something....

  • Nosybear

    I had thought of a number of technical reasons, for example a hacker could decode the "kill" switch and kill thousands of phones at once. Then I read that it was about selling insurance and to sell insurance, you have to have risk so I have to ask, when did doing business cease to be about customer needs?

  • steven taylor

    am I missing something or does this article not makes sense...could the author finish connecting the dots?

  • virtualCableTV

    This has very little to do with customers and everything to do with Communists and Fascists trying to continue to force us all into their police state so they can undermine free speech and immediate response such as when their gestapo are caught raping or murdering citizens which happens more frequently than they will ever admit.

    Everytime you hear a Communist or Fascist open their mouth do whatever you can to shut it as permanently as possible.

  • Thorvington Finglethorpe

    You don't need a "kill switch" feature in the least--you need the carriers to band together, start a database of the unique identifiers of the phones that are stolen (this is information they already have and gather at activation time) and then be legally bound not to allow phones on their network that are in the "stolen" database.

    It would work much the same way that it works when you lose your credit card or debit card--you call in and report it stolen and presto! The bank immediately stops allowing the lost/stolen card to make charges.

    This is a problem that would be so trivial to solve that it's ridiculous! Refusal to act on their own is what led to this legislative push.

  • healeydave

    Is this not the norm anyway!?
    For what must be getting on for a decade or at least ever since we've had IMEI numbers in our phones, you've been able to phone your provider, O2, Orange, Vodafone etc and get your phones IMEI blocked and your SIM cut off to prevent the phone being useful and unwanted call charges.
    Its pretty crap though, it's never stopped people stealing phones (I don't know why as their useless other than for spares afterwards) and if you make a mistake and find your phone, once the IMEI is blocked, it's virtually impossible to get it unblocked.
    Apple's new service is much better whereby at least you can reuse your phone again without too much hassle if you find it by reactivating with the original AppleID. Unfortunately, if IMEI blocking never stopped phones being stolen, I suspect Apple's method will have no better success in the determent stakes but top marks for it being recoverable compared to the old IMEI blocking.

  • Thorvington Finglethorpe

    IMEI blocking hasn't stopped phones from being stolen (yet) because the system for blocking them is so unusable (you can't "un-ban" a phone if you find it, for example, and you have to one-at-a-time report that IMEI to every carrier in the country) that nobody bothers to use it.

    If the default response to a customer reporting a lost/stolen phone was to immediately drop that IMEI into a database shared with all Cell providers (that they're all obligated by regulation or law to honor) that instantly makes any reported-stolen phone totally useless.

    In the long-run such diligence makes the market for stolen phones pretty narrow--pretty much limited to people who don't realize they're buying something worthless. And that group will continue to shrink over time, and as it shrinks, so too will the market for stolen phones.