Ina Fried

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Apple, Samsung Take Steps to Combat Cellphone Theft but Pressed to Do More

In their latest products, both Apple and Samsung are taking steps to make stolen phones less useful to those who purloin them.


Shutterstock / Innershadows Photography

Apple is adding an “activation lock” option in iOS 7 that would prevent thieves from reactivating a stolen phone, while Samsung has partnered with Absolute Software to add a “kill switch” in the Galaxy S4.

But more needs to be done, say San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who convened a meeting with those companies, along with Google and Microsoft.

“The smartphone industry has a responsibility to take action to end the rising and increasingly dangerous epidemic of smartphone theft,” the two officials said in a statement. “Apple and Samsung have taken steps in the right direction, but it is clear to us that the industry as a whole has more work to do to protect consumers from violent street crimes.”

Schneiderman and Gascon want all the manufacturers to have “kill switch” options or other means to combat theft over the next 12 months.

“At today’s meeting we asked the companies to commit to develop effective solutions to this national crime wave and install them on all new products within one year,” they said.

Apple says hundreds of millions of people already use its Find My iPhone feature and noted it is taking things further by preventing unauthorized reactivation for customers that opt to do so.

“Apple has led the industry in helping customers protect their lost or stolen devices since the launch of Find My iPhone in 2009 by allowing customers to remotely set a passcode or erase all their personal data,” Apple said in a statement to AllThingsD. “With Activation Lock, Find My iPhone gives customers even more control over their devices and serves as a theft deterrent by requiring an Apple ID and password to turn off Find My iPhone, erase data or re-activate a device.”

Samsung and Motorola representatives declined to comment on the meeting. A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.

Absolute, whose technology is embedded into a device’s firmware and prevents unauthorized use, praised the move by the prosecutors.

“The outcome of today’s summit made it clear that a persistent theft deterrent is needed, and that solution already exists with our technology,” Absolute CEO John Livingston said in a statement to AllThingsD. “Absolute is actively speaking with the AG and DA’s offices, working with its law enforcement partners, and smartphone manufacturers like our partner Samsung to mitigate the risk associated with mobile device theft and the associated crimes.”

Mobile security software specialist Lookout, which also took part in Thursday’s meeting, said that better protections will not only secure protected devices but also deter overall theft of mobile devices.

“To protect consumers from phone theft, we need to make it harder for the bad guys to profit from stealing phones,” Lookout founder and CTO Kevin Mahaffey said in a statement. “As soon as you take the market incentive away, you’ll see a drop off in device theft.”

Image: Shutterstock / Innershadows Photography

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