Carriers, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others put anti-theft measures in place for smartphones

CTIA said that a group of wireless carriers and smartphone makers had implemented a set of voluntary principles aimed at stopping smartphone theft. The announcement came just as a California law requiring smartphones sold in the state to have a "kill switch" went into effect.  

In April 2014, Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) joined forces with a host of popular smartphone and platform vendors to endorse the anti-theft measures. Those companies include Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Assurant, Asurion, BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics Motorola Mobility, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Samsung Electronics and ZTE.

The handset makers and platform vendors had agreed that for new smartphones manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States they will offer, at no cost to consumers, what the companies call "a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones."

The tools allow for the remote wiping of a user's data if it the device is lost or stolen; a tool that makes the smartphone inoperable to an unauthorized user (for example, by locking the smartphone so it cannot be used without a password or PIN), except in accordance with FCC rules for 911 emergency communications; a tool that prevents reactivation of the phone without authorization from the user; and a tool to allows authorized users to restore their data if the phone is recovered.

"Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen," CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement. "As media reports indicated from San Francisco to New York City, these efforts are significantly reducing device thefts across the country. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features--many of which we list on our website--to protect their mobile devices and personal information."

Last month FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called for smartphone makers and wireless carriers to add anti-theft features to all mobile phones. The FCC's Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), acting through its Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group, released recommendations regarding on-device theft prevention features. Wheeler said the industry should voluntarily support the Working Group's "opt-out" recommendation, under which theft-prevention features such as the ability to remotely lock and wipe data from phones would be activated on all phones by default and require consumers to take affirmative steps to disable them.

California's "kill switch" law was signed last August but went into effect yesterday, as part of an effort to make stolen cell phones worthless to thieves and discourage thefts by allowing them to be "bricked" remotely. Apple's "Activation Lock" and Google's "Device Protection" programs, which have the same effect, were already in place before the law took effect. Those technologies seem to be helping cut down smartphone thefts.

A recent study from the Consumer Reports National Research Center concluded that 2.1 million Americans had their phones stolen last year, down 32 percent from 2013. In New York City, according to Re/code, overall cellphone robberies are down 16 percent, with iPhone robberies down by 25 percent.

"This is validation of what we knew to be the case all along, that if you remove the value of a stolen device you remove the incentive to engage in this violent behavior," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, a proponent of the anti-theft protections, told Re/code. "This wasn't just a local problem, this was a global epidemic, and it seems we're poised to see a dramatic reduction in violent robberies as this technology is implemented ubiquitously."

For more:
- see this CTIA post
- see this PhoneScoop article
- see this Re/code article
- see this CNET article
- see this Forbes article

Related articles:
FCC's Wheeler calls for carriers, OEMs to add anti-theft measures to all phones
California mandates smartphone 'kill switches,' starting in 2015, to deter thieves
Carriers, along with Apple, Samsung, Nokia and others, join forces on anti-theft measures
Proposed California law would mandate 'kill switch' for stolen phones and tablets
CTIA unveils database to track stolen LTE smartphones
Wireless carriers push back on 'kill switch' for stolen smartphones