AH Tech Talk: Why Are Carriers Refusing to Allow Kill Switches on Android Devices, Concern for us or Their Profits?

There is a battle going on between the actual perpetrator that steals your smartphone and your mental and emotional displeasure. However, there is also a battle waging between the smartphone manufacturers and the carriers - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular - why don't they want "kill switch" embedded in the devices that they sell. What could possibly be the carriers reasoning behind their decision - could it be the same as the thief's - pure greed? That seems to be what San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon believes in an article done by CBS News.

There were 1.6 million smartphones stolen last year, especially affecting the major cities. So many of Apple's iPhones were stolen the term, 'apple picking," was coined in response to the problem and Apple ended all of that by including a "kill switch" buried inside of iOS 7; where there is a find-my-phone feature, a kill-my-phone feature, and a wipe-my-data feature. What this means is that if somebody steals your iPhone with iOS 7 on it, they cannot use it, sell it, and anybody stupid enough to buy it from the thief, cannot use it - in other words it becomes a brick or expensive paperweight.

You might be asking yourself why Android phones can't be locked down like this. Take Samsung, for instance, they manufacture Android phones, but the operating system is from Google and Android. Even though Samsung wanted to put a "kill switch" into their devices, they said that the carriers fought them on it. Being an "opened" operating system, the carriers can go into Android and do a little software patch to remove it. With Apple, they make the hardware and closed software so there is nothing that the carriers can do except refuse to sell the iPhone - as if that would ever happen. Here is an area, through the use of technology, we could render a stolen device completely useless.

Google finally developed their Android Device Manager to help - to an extent. With the Device Manager you can:

  • Locate and ring your misplace device (downstairs or under the seat cushion)
  • Locates your device on a map to determine its location (left it at the restaurant)
  • Remotely add a lock screen to your device
  • Protect your personal information and data (allows you to wipe your phone clean)

The problem with all of this is that although you can wipe your device of all personal data, the thief can still reactivate the phone under a new account. The Device Manager's approach was to help a user locate their lost smartphone, not rendering useless if it was stolen.

CTIA-The Wireless Association says they do not like the idea of a "kill switch" because it would allow a hacker to render an innocent person's device useless.  The CTIA, a trade group for wireless providers, said it has been working with the FCC, law enforcement agencies and elected officials on a national stolen phone database scheduled to launch Nov. 30. Once a phone reported stolen and placed on the register, it can no longer be used by anybody.

CBS News says:

Gascon suspects it's because it would cut into big profits the phone companies make selling anti-theft insurance and replacement phones.

We're talking about a $60-billion-a-year industry, and about a half of that seems to be attached to the replacement of phones that are being stolen. So we're talking about a lot of money here.

CBS News senior correspondent and FBI insider John Miller said the registry put more onus on the owner:

You have to get on the stolen phone registry, you have to go find your phone, you have to go do this -- with the Apple thing, you just say, through one device to another, 'you're a paperweight now. And look, in 1994, they broke into every car and stole every radio in New York. Until the car people and the radio people got together and they said, 'If you take the radio out of a car, it'll never work in another car,' this chip doesn't match that chip, they stopped stealing radios. Never happened again.

So you decide - is it concern that a hacker could render our device useless, or because the carriers don't want to lost their billions in insurance options that a customer pays for each month while they are on contract. Let us know in the comments or on Google+ what you think is driving the carriers to refuse "kill switches."

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