Mobile Carriers Reject Theft-Preventing Smartphone Killswitch, Would Rather Sell You Insurance

Smartphone theft (and, let’s be honest with our absent-minded and clumsy selves, loss) is a major problem, and a potential solution proposed by lawmakers in San Francisco and New York has been shot down by the big four wireless carriers.

San Francisco DA George Gascón (who has been working on solutions with New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman) told the New York Times that he had been working with Samsung--a company that makes a great many of the nation’s smartphones--to put antitheft software on the company’s handsets that would give carriers a killswitch to deactivate a stolen smartphone.

George Gascon announcing Save Our Smartphones
Gascon (center) and Schneiderman (second from right) (Credit: Bebeto Matthews/AP)

According to Gascón, carriers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint nixed the idea, and in emails sent between Samsung and a developer, the alleged reason is that the carriers were worried that a killswitch would cut into the profits they make selling phone loss or theft insurance.

If true, that’s terribly damning.

The CTIA isn’t on board either, though. The trade group believes that a killswitch would create problems with hackers disabling devices with the killswitch, a tactic that could be used against law enforcement and government employees. Instead, the CTIA backs a nationwide blacklist database that prevents stolen devices from being modified and used on other networks, and it also supports legislation proposed by Senator Chuck Schumer that would make altering a device to avoid the database a federal crime.

It sounds like everyone from lawmakers to the CTIA are working hard on solving this problem and need to just get together on the right solution, but if the carriers’ objection to any of it is related to making money, that’s shameful.