New Drive Aims to Stamp Out Smartphone Crime

A coalition of United States officials, institutional investors and consumer advocates on Thursday launched the Save Our Smartphones Initiative nationwide.

With smartphone-related crimes, some of which are shockingly brutal, on the rise in the U.S., law enforcement officials have cranked up the pressure on the cellphone industry to come up with technologies to deter theft.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced the initiative in New York. The two recently set up a petition on calling on the CEOs of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Motorola, Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint Nextel to act.

SOS wants the cellphone industry to come up with ways to eliminate the secondhand market for stolen mobile communications devices.

Schneiderman and Gascon also are holding a summit at the attorney general’s office in New York with executives from Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google in attendance.

The SOS Initiative

The SOS Initiative brings together state attorneys general, district attorneys, police chiefs of major cities, state and city comptrollers, and public safety activists throughout the U.S.

It will take a carrot-and-stick approach to the issue. On the one hand, it will analyze patterns, causes and trends behind growing and increasingly violent device theft; look into technologies manufacturers can develop to deter theft; and work with device manufacturers to make a kill switch or other effective deterrent a standard feature of smartphones.

On the other hand, the initiative will look into how the economics of device theft have affected decision making by the smartphone industry, and it will investigate impropriety on the part of manufacturers, pressuring them through various means. It’s not clear whether the question of who benefits when people have to replace stolen devices will be considered.

The initiative’s supporters include the attorneys general and the district attorneys of various states; several California politicians; senior police officials in various states; and the Consumers Union.

“What we want to get out of this is to push manufacturers and the cellphone industry to create a technological solution, such as a kill switch,” Stephanie Stillman, the spokesperson for San Francisco District Attorney Gascon’s office, told TechNewsWorld.

Schneiderman reportedly has hinted he might sue industry members to get them to comply, but a spokesperson for his office was not immediately available to provide further details.

Crime and the Smartphone

Smartphone theft is a growing problem, and people have been stabbed and killed for their smartphones, according to the SOS Initiative. About 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involved a mobile phone, and lost and stolen cellphones cost consumers more than US$30 billion last year.

“Consumer Reports said 1.6 million people were robbed of their smartphones in 2012,” Stillman noted.

CTIA-The Wireless Association will provide detailed information on the industry’s initiatives on smartphone theft at the summit in New York, Jamie Hastings, the association’s vice president of external and state affairs, told TechNewsWorld.

These include educational campaigns and databases of stolen smartphones that were set up last year.

The CTIA also lists anti-theft apps on its website. Most of these are free.

iOS 7 Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Apple’s upcoming iOS 7 will include a new “Find My iPhone Activation Lock” feature that requires the owner’s Apple ID and password in order to turn off the feature, erase data or reactivate a device after it’s been remotely erased.

That’s “a step in the right direction but it doesn’t render the phone inoperable,” Stillman said. “It makes it harder for thieves to sell [stolen iPhones] in the secondary market, but it’s unclear to us that it’s hack-proof — and given that iOS 7 won’t be out until fall, it’s too soon to tell. We want a technology that will make the actual phone worthless.”

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