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FCC urges phone companies to make opt-out anti-theft measures standard on all devices

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has recommended smartphone manufacturers adopt anti-theft measures across the board, make them standard on all devices sold with no additional charges, and ensure they are activated out-of-the-box. The measures, which include remote locking and remote data wipe technology, are all part of a series of guidelines made by the FCC’s Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group.

While none of the features will be especially new to smartphone users — Android and iOS both have support for such systems — the FCC wants manufacturers to make sure they come switched on, forcing users to actively disable them, rather than the other way around. In addition to the more familiar features, Wheeler also mentions the inclusion of an emergency 911 call feature that works even when the phone is locked.

“If implemented,” Wheeler’s quoted as saying, “these features will result in more consumers using these powerful features which, in turn, will mark a key milestone in combatting smartphone theft.”

It’s not the first time the FCC has pushed for these anti-theft measures to be adopted. At the end of last year, it announced more that a million phones are stolen each year in the U.S. alone, and said that although features such as Find My iPhone and Android Activation Lock were available, they are often unused. Wheeler’s words are becoming more forceful on the subject of them being opt-out, rather than opt-in.

There is evidence the use of so-called kill switches works too. In February, research showed iPhone thefts had fallen substantially in London, New York, and San Francisco after Find My iPhone was activated as standard in iOS 8.

The FCC also hopes its persuasive words on the subject will bring the industry and states inline with each other. In California, a “kill switch bill” was passed last year making it law for smartphones sold there to have anti-theft measures installed and activated as standard. It’s due to come into effect in July, along with a similar bill in Minnesota.

While such measures won’t physically stop a pickpocket lifting your phone, they will make it less attractive to do so in the first place, and that’s a very good start.