Business

Disconnect Seen Between Smartphone Industry, Schneiderman Over Anti-Theft Agreement

Manufacturers, Service Providers Agree To Add Security Tools To Devices By 2015
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference introducing new legislation that would require smartphone manufacturers to create a "kill switch" for people to deactivate their phones if they are stolen, on March 3, 2014 in New York City. (credit: Getty Images)

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a news conference introducing new legislation that would require smartphone manufacturers to create a “kill switch” for people to deactivate their phones if they are stolen, on March 3, 2014 in New York City. (credit: Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An agreement by the nation’s biggest smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers to equip devices with anti-theft tools is a “welcomed step,” but it doesn’t go far enough, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says.

CTIA-The Wireless Association announced Tuesday night that under a “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment,” the companies — including Apple, Samsung, Verizon, AT&T, U.S. Cellular, Sprint and T-Mobile — have agreed to provide a free preloaded or downloadable anti-theft tool on smartphones sold in the U.S. after July 2015.

Owners’ options will include remotely removing a smartphone’s data and preventing reactivation if a phone is stolen or lost, the association said.

It appears the wireless industry has somewhat reversed course as law enforcement and elected officials in the U.S., including Schneiderman and Sen. Charles Schumer D-N.Y., have demanded that manufacturers implement a “kill switch” to combat surging smartphone theft across the country. Industry officials have previously said putting a permanent kill switch on phones has serious risks, including the potential that hackers could activate it.

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen,” CTIA CEO Steve Largent said in a written statement. “This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain. At the same time, it’s important different technologies are available so that a ‘trap door’ isn’t created that could be exploited by hackers and criminals.”

Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who have given the manufacturers a June deadline to find solutions to curb smartphone theft, said in a joint statement Tuesday that while CTIA’s plan still falls short of effectively ending smartphone theft because the measures will rely on consumers to seek out and turn on the technology.

Gascon added, “This approach is a losing strategy, and that’s why this commitment falls short of what American wireless consumers need to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft.”

The wireless industry’s announcement comes nearly two weeks after Samsung announced that it added two anti-theft features, “Find My Mobile” and “Reactivation Lock” to its recently released Galaxy S5 smartphone.

Apple created a similar “Activation Lock” feature for the popular iPhone last year and has offered a free tool called “Find My iPhone.”

Almost one in three robberies in the U.S. involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices — mostly smartphones — cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012, the agency said in a study.

Earlier this month, California legislators introduced a bill that, if passed, would require mobile devices sold in or shipped to the state be equipped with the anti-theft devices starting next year — a move that could be the first of its kind in the United States. Similar legislation is being considered in New York, Illinois and Minnesota, and bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress.

While the agreement may not satisfy Schneiderman and Garscon, Jeff Kagan, a longtime tech analyst in Atlanta, said Tuesday that the wireless industry’s commitment may be the closest to solving the smartphone theft problem. He believes the industry’s commitment occurred because they saw that government is in the process of making sweeping changes.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of back and forth, but this is the next natural step,’ Kagan said. “I don’t think the wireless industry would’ve done this if there wasn’t pressure from lawmakers and the public to come up with some solutions. Sometimes it takes a nudge.”

Chris, a smartphone user, told 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa that he welcomes a tool to secure or delete personal information from stolen or lost devices. But he said he’s already cautious.

“I don’t put much on my phone like that because in case I lose it,” Chris said. “But I’m sure people put bank account numbers or anything. You get into emails. Anything like that.”

Some people said they back up their information in a cloud or on Google, but many admitted they don’t always lock their phones.

Jennifer told Papa she doesn’t do either. And if she loses her phone? “I’m screwed, and I’d better change all my password and credit cards pretty much,” she said.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)