November 20, 2013, 4:11 PM — You're a streetwise kinda cat. You would never be foolish enough to walk around in a crowded or unfamiliar urban environment waving a handful of hundred dollar bills, right?
But, you've probably done the equivalent of that before. I, for one, do it daily. Smartphones are little pocket-sized machines that cost up to $600. Is it any surprise then that smartphone theft--acts that run the spectrum from silent pickpocketing to violent encounters--has skyrocketed in recent years?
New York City, for example, is experiencing a historic lull in crime, with one exception: Theft of mobile Apple products. Also consider that of the 9,000 robberies committed in Oakland, Calif. in 2013, three-quarters have involved a smartphone. Just try doing a Google search for "gunpoint iPhone" to see some of the latest mobile carnage.
According to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one-in-three thefts in the United States involves a smartphone. Schneiderman along San Francisco DA George Gascón (in addition to 30 Attorneys general signatories) have spearheaded the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, an attempt to pressure smart phone manufacturers to better protect their consumers.
Specifically the SOSI wants all manufactures to install a "kill switch" that would allow any user to brick their phone remotely should they become separated from the expensive little digital companion for any reason.
The initiative has focused its attention on Googlerola, Microsoft, and Samsung, noting that Apple has been more cooperative via tools like Find My iPhone and the Activation Lock in iOS 7, which in essence erases and bricks your misappropriated iPhone.
It should be noted, that as of this summer, a "kill switch" is now mandatory for every phone sold in South Korea in order to battle smartphone theft. So, why not here in Mugville?
CTIA, the phone industry trade group, has been outright against the kill switch, instead working to implement a nationwide database of stolen phones that would be blocked on the nation's largest wireless networks. However, police forces have said that the database has not been effective since there is such a robust secondary market for stolen smartphones overseas--beyond the reach of the US-only database.
Carriers killed the kill switch
According to a New York Times report, San Francisco DA Gascón has been working with Samsung to begin including antitheft software on all its phones sold in the United States; however, the major carriers have vetoed the technology.
In order to preload the software on the phones, Samsung requires approval from carriers that support the phone. Gascón says he has obtained communications between Samsung and a software developer, which state that the carriers were unwilling to allow Samsung to preload the antitheft software.
The report goes on to state that the emails would eat into the profit the carriers make off from insurance programs that consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones. Each of the four major carriers offer some form of phone insurance available for an additional $8-per-month (with the exception of AT&T, which offers its Mobile Insurance plan for $7-per-month).
However these monthly fees may not be the only service that plants green in the carriers' eyes. According to Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, the carriers may be planning to offer proprietary kill switches of their own--for a fee.
"If carriers are in fact rejecting 'kill switches,' they would be doing it so that they, themselves, can monetize the feature," Moorhead stated. "Carriers make a lot of money on service and feature add-ons, and a kill switch could be lucrative business."
Gascón has said that he is evaluating what action to take regarding the carriers' refusal to allow Samsung to pre-load a kill switch on its phones.
In the meantime, we terrified residents of the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like world of the mobile age can at least find some solace in the fact that our criminal predators tend to be really stupid.