Smartphone theft and muggings have reached an all time high, costing customers more than $30 billion last year and causing law enforcers to derisively refer to the wave, at least as it relates to iPhones and iPads, as “Apple picking”. Samsung offered a rather drastic proposal to help improve the situation but was shot down by major wireless carriers in the US.
Samsung’s solution isn’t actually a direct solution but more of a deterrent to the crime. Utilizing a software called Absolute LoJack, carriers or any competent authority can remotely send a “kill switch” command that will render the smartphone useless. The presence of such a feature could, in effect, lessen the resale value of devices, which is considered one of if not the major incentive for smartphone theft. Samsung claims that it already had the feature installed on smartphones but were ordered by carriers to strip it out before the devices shipped.
US carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, saw problems in Samsung’s solution. In particular, they say that the feature could actually become more of a liability, giving malicious individuals ways to remotely disable a device without the user’s knowledge or consent. That, of course, is always a possibility, but it seems there is more to it that meets the eye, at least based on email exchanges between the parties involved. According to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, the correspondence suggests that the ulterior motive for the carriers’ veto is to be able to continue collecting theft insurance premiums from customers.
While Gascon believes that Samsung’s proposal has the potential to help reduce smartphone theft, there are, in the meantime, less drastic measures that Android users can take in case of a lost or stolen smartphone. Users can track down and, if needed, remotely lock down or even wipe their device via the Android Device Manager or CyanogenMod’s new CM Account feature.