Skip to main content

Smartphone industry embraces anti-theft move, but for some lawmakers it’s not enough

smartphone kill switch california 2015 phone theft
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pretty much all the leading smartphone makers have signed a pledge to pre-load anti-theft software – or have it ready to be downloaded – onto their mobile devices from July next year. Similar software is already offered by some manufacturers, including Apple with its Find My iPhone app.

It’s hoped the move will make smartphones a lot less attractive for thieves, and should provide device owners in the US with peace of mind as they’ll be able to remotely erase all data on their handset – and also render it inoperable – should it be stolen. If an owner recovers their device at a later date, the technology allows for it to be restored and reused.

With smartphone thefts on the rise in the US and elsewhere, calls from law enforcement officials and legislators for handset makers to make more effort to tackle the issue have been growing ever louder.

The ‘Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment‘, announced Tuesday, has been signed by the likes of Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung, and is also receiving backing from the country’s five biggest wireless carriers.

Not enough?

While the announcement has been largely welcomed by lawmakers, for some it falls well short of expectations. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, for example, have both long argued for the mandatory inclusion of anti-theft software on mobile phones. In a joint statement, the attorneys said that although it welcomes the CTIA wireless association’s decision to announce “a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones….it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft.”

The pair have previously said they believe moves to install more robust anti-theft technology on handsets have been blocked by carriers overly interested in making money from handset insurance, though the CTIA has said it worries a mandatory kill switch could let hackers infiltrate the system and maliciously disable devices.

California lawmaker Mark Leno, a strong voice in the campaign to improve handset security, was similarly unimpressed by the pledge, describing it as an “incremental yet inadequate” step to deal with smartphone theft. He added that it’ll still be up to a user to download or activate the anti-theft software.

“Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive,” Leno said. “While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablet.”

In contrast, Steve Largent, the president of CTIA, said the initiative showed the industry was willing to work together with regulators and consumer groups and thanked the companies for their commitment to protect smartphone users.

[via Re/code, Reuters] [Image: Cunaplus / Shutterstock]

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Android 15 might add a new way to charge your gadgets
The Android 15 logo on a smartphone.

Wireless charging has been a fringe feature for over a decade, despite Apple's push into the ecosystem with the iPhone X and its later adoption of MagSafe. It has been limited to flagship phones, save for a few exceptions, mostly due to the painfully slow charging speeds. But with Android 15, Google now seems to offer phone makers additional reasons to adopt wireless charging even without dedicated hardware.

Instead of relying on a dedicated charging coil, Android 15 could enable wireless charging on phones with Near Field Communications (or NFC) tech. Android Authority dug up instances from the source code of Android 15's first user beta, which arrived last week, that suggests the implementation.
Not new, but definitely noteworthy
Samsung Galaxy S23 FE Tushar Mehta / Digital Trends

Read more
How futuristic display tech is trying to save your eyes
Lock screen on Onyx Boox Tab Ultra C

I recently found myself on a reporting assignment in Trivandrum, a beautiful beach town in India’s southernmost state. One sweltering day, as I lay reading some comics on a deckchair, I noticed that a Dutch woman kept taking a peek at my tablet. With hopes of finding a new comics-loving friend from a different world, I asked if she enjoys the work of Mark Millar.

“I am more curious about the screen protector on your tablet. What is it?” she asked in her distinctive accent. I told her that there was no screen protector in place. The display itself looks and feels like paper, with little to no glare. The slate in question was the Onyx Tab Ultra C, which features a Kaleido 3 E Ink display.

Read more
Why you need to be excited about the Google Pixel 8a
A person holding the Google Pixel 8, showing the screen.

This is going to be a busy year for Google Pixel devices. In less than a month, Google is expected to launch its first new Pixel of the year with the Google Pixel 8a. Following that, we're expecting a Google Pixel Fold 2, possibly another Pixel Tablet, the Pixel 9 series, and a Pixel Watch 3 later in the fall.

There's plenty to look forward to with all of those Pixels, but if you ask me, I think the Pixel 8a is the most promising of the bunch. In a year when Google has exciting upgrades planned for its flagship and foldable phones, Google's budget-focused omodel is what's really on my mind.
Google is at its best with cheaper phones
The Google ixel 3a XL (left) and Pixel 3 XL Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

Read more