updated 07:04 pm EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Industry-led group will work on standards for phone security across platforms
Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft, among others, have joined with the top five US wireless carriers to create an industry group dedicated to fighting smartphone theft and implementing multi-platform technology to aid that cause by next summer. HTC, Huawei, Motorola and Nokia are also part of the group, which is aiming to create a "baseline anti-theft tool" similar to the steps Apple has already taken in its own iPhone security software, particularly with regards to preventing reactivation.
The program, which is being administered by the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA), is called the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment," and obligates members to agree to implement an anti-theft tool for any customer buying a mobile phone after July of 2015. The tool must allow users to render the device unusable to an unauthorized person (apart from 911 emergency calls), prevent re-activation, and allow users to erase data remotely from the device. The operations must also be reversible if the device is recovered, AppleInsider reports.
While iPhone owners already enjoy the benefit of these protections, the group is aiming to make such standards platform- and category-independent. Apple has already gone farther than most, with fingerprint identification (Touch ID) on its iPhone 5s along with Activation Lock, Lost Mode and its Find My iPhone web-based recovery tool. Samsung has recently implemented a different sort of fingerprint sensor in its Galaxy S5 smartphone as well.
Phone theft is a major crime issue in the United States, with cities like New York reporting that up to one in every three street crimes involves the theft of a mobile device. Police are often unable to catch the perpetrator of such thefts, and most phones can be easily re-activated with a different SIM card and re-sold, or have their security (if any) bypassed to obtain identity and confidential information. Given the value of top-quality smartphones, the crime is seen as being low-risk and high-reward for thieves.
While many will laud the new initiative, some have criticized the program for being voluntary among its members. "The wireless industry today has taken an incremental yet inadequate step to address the epidemic of smartphone theft," said California state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco. "Today's 'opt-in' proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets."