If you got a new smartphone for Christmas, congratulations. You'll probably love it. And sorry to be the Grinch, but so will criminals, who stole an estimated 1.6 million smartphones last year, making them one of the riskier things you can carry on American streets these days.
Theft of iPhones and similar devices is epidemic, according to police chiefs and prosecutors. In
The reason for the epidemic is simple: Stolen smartphones can mean quick cash on the black market. A smartphone can fetch
One way to cut smartphone robberies is for users to be careful where they flash their devices. But the best way would be to make stolen phones useless to thieves or black-market buyers by making it easy for owners to "brick" them -- render them inoperable. Thieves would steal a lot fewer phones if they knew owners could quickly turn them into paperweights.
Apps to do this are available, but many can be defeated. Cellphone makers such as Apple and Samsung have devised more foolproof protection, and you'd think cell carriers would be rushing to embrace such technology to protect their customers. You'd be wrong.
CTIA, the trade association that represents carriers such as
As an alternative to pre-installed kill switches, CTIA worked with the
This is better than nothing, but there are problems: The database relies on a stolen phone's unique identification number, which sophisticated criminals can alter. A phone that can't make calls might still work fine on Wi-Fi networks. And, finally, the database doesn't apply in most overseas markets, where a lot of the stolen phones end up.
The CTIA argues that kill switches permanently disable phones. But available technology allows the original owners to disable stolen phones and reactivate them with a user name and password if they're recovered.
Why would cell carriers want to block kill switches?
Whatever the reason, it doesn't justify failing to protect customers. In face of this obstructionism, politicians are proposing laws to require that phones come with technology that can make them inoperable. That shouldn't be necessary, but if industry won't act, it could be the only way.
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