Phone carriers make a lot of money from selling insurance to users who fear losing their smartphones to thieves. However, it also appears that wireless carriers have a fear of their own – a fear of losing that profit if they actively help users prevent phone theft.
In an interview with the New York Times, San Francisco district Attorney, George Gascón chastised phone carriers for placing profits over the safety of users:
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.
Gascón said emails between Samsung executives and developers showed a lack of willingness to participate in a Kill Switch that would render stolen phones useless. Doing so would lower their insurance profits. Samsung and other phone carriers are also unwilling to do so since it would also mean less phone purchases from phone theft victims.
The carriers have defended their opinion, saying Kill Switches would be abused and ineffective, and added that they were willing to participate in stolen phone databases, which, were deemed ineffective by police and lawmakers. Historically, stolen phone databases are ineffective outside of the US, and evidently, a lot of them end up in places like Hong Kong where they are sold for $2000 each.
In a statement to the New York Times, Samsung assuages smartphone users by claiming to cooperate with New York’s SOS Initiative:
Samsung takes the issue of smartphone theft very seriously, and we are continuing to enhance our solutions. We are working with the leaders of the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) Initiative to incorporate the perspective of law enforcement agencies. We will continue to work with them and our wireless carrier partners towards our common goal of stopping smartphone theft.
However, a statement from New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden along with 31 other states have signed a public statement which repeats the same sentiments from Gascón:
Manufacturers and carriers need to put public safety before corporate profits and stop this violent epidemic, which has put millions of smartphone users at risk.
Further, the press statement gave some worrisome details about the growth of smartphone thefts and petty crimes:
Last year, 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco targeted such devices. In New York City, the number was 20 percent, a 40 percent increase from the year before. Recently, a half a dozen teenagers beat a 36-year-old New York City man for his iPhone.
As the battle between carriers and law enforcement takes place, it’s safe to take matters into your own hand. Android users should consult this Google to Know site from Google, detailing how to properly protect your device. Apple users should familiarize themselves with Apple’s Activation Lock.