US Mobile Phones Will Come Standard With Kill Switches By 2015
April 17, 2014

US Mobile Phones Will Come Standard With Kill Switches By 2015

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

One line from the otherwise regrettable "The Hangover Part III" rings true for most of us. Zach Galifianakis' man-child character offers, "There's nothing worse than losing your phone." While this comes as the characters endure comedic stupidity, in the average lives that most of us lead losing our phone is fairly devastating.

This is why in 2015 a "kill switch" will be standard on all smartphones sold in the United States. The CTIA this week issued a statement with participating wireless companies that announced the start of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. This is the most recent effort by the industry to help deter smartphone thefts in the country.

A kill switch is software built into the device that allows the owner or carrier to disable the phone remotely if it is lost or stolen. The phone will actually not just be disabled, but will make it unable to be activated again for the resale market.

Under the rules of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment agreement, all new models of smartphones first manufactured after July 2015 will have a baseline anti-theft tool preloaded or downloadable; it will not be an option.

Four functions are outlined in the agreement. Users must have the ability to remotely wipe the phone of user data; the phone must be rendered inoperable to an unauthorized user; the software should prevent reactivation without an authorized user's permission; and the user should be able to reverse the inoperability if the smartphone is recovered by the authorized user; as well, the user should be able to restore data on the smartphone from the cloud if it is feasible.

The new initiative has a number of companies already backing it. In addition to the regulatory group, commitments have been made from Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC, Huawei Device USA, Motorola Mobility, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung Telecommunications America, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless.

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen. This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain. At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals,” said Steve Largent, President and CEO, CTIA, in a statement from the organization. “By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones.”

The new deadline leaves just over a year for all stakeholders to agree upon and enact software that will be baked into every handset manufactured after july 2015.

To date carriers have rebuffed attempts at a kill switch. Some groups have made claims that carriers don't want a kill switch because replacement of lost and stolen smartphones brings in revenue for the carriers. Still, legislation is getting closer to making a kill switch a requirement, with California paving the way. The CTIA is acting ahead of further government action, making the compliance voluntary rather than compulsory.

A number of state lawmakers support the new initiative, however they hold out hope that the voluntary kill switch will go far enough once it is put into action.

“I am encouraged by these steps to deter smartphone thefts and hopeful that that these measures will bring much needed protections to Chicago consumers,” said Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke, in a statement from the CTIA. “As the sponsor of pending legislation that seeks to mandate ‘kill switch’ technology on all smartphones sold in Chicago, I commend the smartphone industry for its cooperative efforts, but will remain watchful that these commitments are both upheld and result in the shared goal of reducing smartphone thefts citywide.”