Microsoft, Apple and Google pledge to offer smartphone 'kill switch' programs in 2015

T-Mobile's recent TV ad showed actor Bill Hader giving his phone to a mugger.

If a person's smartphone is stolen, there is a big risk that the thief will gain access to personal and important information found on the device. Now a group of smartphone makers and wireless providers in the U.S. have pledged to offer consumers access to free tools that can be used to secure or wipe the data if it is taken.

The CITA trade group announced the pledge, called the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" this week. Companies that have signed on to abide by the pledge include Microsoft, Apple, Google, Samsung, Nokia. HTC. Motorola, Huawei, and Asurion. Also, wireless providers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have committed to this effort. BlackBerry and LG are not a part of this effort.

Under this pledge, smartphone makers state that devices they make after July 2015 must offer a free anti-theft tool that's either included in the smartphone or available via download. The tool must allow the user to remotely wipe the data that is on their phone if it is lost or stolen and render the device itself inoperable. The smartphone can be reactivated later, but only by the permission of an authorized user. All wireless providers who sign the pledge must also permit their customers to gain access to such an anti-theft app.

This news comes as more state and local lawmakers are trying to pass new regulations that require all smartphones have "kill switch" programs. The state of Minnesota may pass the first such law in the U.S. as early as next week.

Source: CITA | Image via T-Mobile

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31 Comments

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Sounds like some of these manufacturers just signed up to get their name added to the list, even though they've already offered this service for some time.

Apple, for example, has the Find My iPhone/iPad/Mac app and service. Where Apple's approach goes beyond any other's is the fact that once the device has Find My iPhone activated, there is no way for a stranger to access, reset, or even install the OS over again. It is completely locked, even when placed on recovery mode, it will prompt for the Apple ID credentials before it will let anyone do anything with the device.

So it is essentially a brick. If they take the SIM card out, you're SOL, but at least someone else won't be benefiting from your device. This, in my eyes, is even better because it will lower Apple device thefts.

If the device does connect to the internet, you can wipe it remotely.

^^ this

So many people who don't run apple devices don't realize apple came out with this in IOS7 last year. I don't know why other makers don't copy the format.

for those that don't understand: with any iDevice running IOS7+, once you have your apple ID (icloud credentials) in it, no one can use your phone/ipad/ipod if they steal it and reset the device. Its is 100% a brick. The imei/serial number is tied to your apple id which is checked with apple servers upon any Reset/IOS install. You may very well reset the phone, but upon activation you will be greeted with a sign in screen. And if they have the device powered on, if its an iphone or cellular equipped ipad, you can see it directly through findmyiphone website to see exactly where it is. If its a wifi ipad or ipod then you will see where its last wifi + on spot was on map.

Edited by Deleted Bye, Apr 16 2014, 8:26pm :

james.faction said,
I'm pretty sure there is already a hack/jailbreak for this. Kudos to Apple for giving it a try though.

no... the only way around it would be sheer luck. You would have to clone an Imie from a old broken iphone and then put it in the new iphone then hope the old IMEI number didn't have a user signed into icloud. Not worth that trials, risk, expense, or hassle. Not my actual friends, but people i know of actual phone repair shops that know how to do all the tricks needed have tried to no avail.

Sony do this with their latest devices. Online tracker as well as alarm sound and ability to lock the phone of all use and wipe internal storage, sim and and cards.

noodlehat said,
Sony do this with their latest devices. Online tracker as well as alarm sound and ability to lock the phone of all use and wipe internal storage, sim and and cards.

It's a standard Android feature now days isn't it?

If there really is a 'kill' switch that makes the phone useless, it is unlikely you will be getting the phone back, for reactivation. The thieves are going to throw it in the trash.

Enron said,
HTC has had a kill switch for years. 6 months after you buy your phone, they kill support for it.

Zing!

BlackBerry has had this since 2009 with BlackBerry Protect and PIN blocking. I remember when I got this on my 9700. Old news for BlackBerry users.

Will it work with the SIM card thrown away first thing after stealing ?
And will it still lock the phone if the next thing the thief do is hard-resetting the phone on the next start up ?

rluka said,
Will it work with the SIM card thrown away first thing after stealing ?
And will it still lock the phone if the next thing the thief do is hard-resetting the phone on the next start up ?

You hit the nail on the head. The marketing bullsh*t is silent about this worldwide known trick that can bypass with 100% success rate this amateurish "security" mechanism.

Until thats clarified, this is nothing more than bullsh*t to the uneducated consumers. They (the uneducated or naive consumers) will make surprised faces when they realize this super solution worths nothing.

rluka said,
Will it work with the SIM card thrown away first thing after stealing ?
And will it still lock the phone if the next thing the thief do is hard-resetting the phone on the next start up ?

It could still work if they connect to WiFi. And if they hard reset your phone they won't exactly be able to get at your personal data, which is more the point of the kill switch that making it useless.

Also I'd bet most smartphone thieves are to dumb for either of those.

spenser.d said,

Also I'd bet most smartphone thieves are to dumb for either of those.

You're right. They just go straight to their contacts in the cell phone market who deal with stolen phones everyday and are experts in doing this.

I've heard that up until recently, the iPhone version was a fail because the Find My Phone application could be unistalled on the stolen phone or something. The Windows Phone one comes built into the OS.

Congrats Microsoft for already implementing this technology many years ago.

Who exactly is this supposed to actually be targeting? I know Microsoft provide it for free with Windows Phone and always have, I think Apple do too, so is it google that doesn't?

Ideas Man said,
Who exactly is this supposed to actually be targeting? I know Microsoft provide it for free with Windows Phone and always have, I think Apple do too, so is it google that doesn't?

Google does of course also offer a remote lock and erase tool for Android devices since years (google for Android device manager) but this kill switch is slightly different in functionality than the tools now available by MS, Apple or Google.

shinji257 said,
I think it disables the ability for the device to boot at a low level until reactivated.

The Find My iPhone remote kill failed to work when my phone was stolen.

This is why I put a secondary kill switch loaded as a system app and where settings for it will persist through a factory reset. The only way to get rid of it would be to wipe the rom and start over.