All it took was one commitment to bind several competing technology companies in one similar goal. The CTIA-The Wireless Association announced on April 15 the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment, which has been agreed upon by participating device manufacturers and wireless carriers.
The commitment is the latest effort of the industry to help prevent mobile thefts in the U.S., which have become a growing concern for consumers and law enforcement. The participating companies in the voluntary commitment are Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. CTIA is a global nonprofit membership association that represents the wireless communications business since 1984.
"The safety and security of wireless users remain the wireless industry's top priority, and is why this commitment will continue to protect consumers while recognizing the companies' need to retain flexibility so they may constantly innovate, which is key to stopping smartphone theft," the CTIA said in a statement.
The commitment states that the participating companies agree that a standard anti-theft tool, whether preloaded or downloadable on smartphones, will be offered for free to new releases of smartphones mass-produced after July 2015 and intended for retail sale in the United States.
In cases of lost or stolen mobile phones, the anti-theft tool provides the following capabilities: remotely wipes the personal data of the authorized user; makes the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users through PIN- or password-based smartphone locks; prevents reactivation without the permission of the authorized user; and reverts back to the normal operability of and restores user data on the phone only when the authorized user recovers the mobile unit.
Earlier, many legislators have considered using a "kill switch" to curb mobile thefts in the U.S. The SB 962 bill on "kill switch" has been spearheaded by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), along with other legislators, and would require mobile manufacturers to create one by next year. The mobile industry has resisted the move because that would make things easier for hackers to disable phone devices or for authorized users to delete content of a lost phone only to find out later that the unit wasn't really lost but only misplaced.
CTIA said the new proactive initiative or commitment is a move to boost consumer protection and assist law enforcement, and that it's necessary to use various technologies so that a "trap door" wouldn't be created that could be easily exploited by malicious entities.
"By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users' personal information on smartphones," CTIA's president and CEO Steve Largent said in a statement.
Several legislators lauded the commitment of the organization, among which is Oregon state Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro).
"This voluntary effort serves as another positive illustration of the wireless industry adapting to address consumer needs through self-regulation," said Starr, who is also National Conference of State Legislatures president. Other legislators nationwide also expressed appreciation of the industry's commitment.
Nevertheless, other legislators and authorities think the commitment is insufficient because it still gives users the option to take or not to take the security tool.
"It should come enabled when you purchase your phone and the retailer activates it," said Leno, adding that such requirement is important to convey to possible perpetrators that the phones are now worthless steals.
Leno's kill-switch bill will be discussed on the state Senate floor sometime next week. Other similar bills at the national level have been introduced as well in the Senate and House of Representatives this year.