U.S. Carriers, Smartphone Makers Commit To Supporting Anti-Theft Tools

A group of smartphone manufacturers and U.S. carriers agreed to sign the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment", which said that all smartphones manufactured after July 1, 2015 will need to have a baseline anti-theft tool that's either preloaded or downloadable to the phones. It will also need to be available at no cost to consumers.

The companies that signed the agreement cover most, if not all, of the nation's mobile customers and include:

Apple Inc. Assurant, Inc. Asurion AT&T BlackBerry Limited Google Inc. HTC America, Inc. Huawei Device USA LG Electronics MobileComm USA, Inc. Motorola Mobility LLC Microsoft CorporationSamsung Telecommunications America, L.P. Sprint Corporation T-Mobile USA U.S. Cellular Verizon Wireless ZTE USA, Inc.

The anti-theft tool will also include multiple capabilities to deter thieves from taking advantage of the stolen phone, including:

Remote wiping: The tool should be able to remotely delete all personal and sensitive information from the phone.Phone locking: This is a feature all phones should have by now, but it falls onto the user to enable a PIN or fingerprint lock.Preventing reactivation without the owner's permission.Reversing the inoperability if the phone is recovered by the authorized user. Data should also be restored from the cloud, but this will likely depend on whether the user has enabled cloud syncing or not.

As per the "part 2" of the signed commitment, all participating network operators will have to allow smartphone owners to use such anti-theft tools that are either preloaded or downloaded from app stores. This seems to be the carriers' only responsibility. The first part of the agreement referred only to smartphone manufacturers and operating system vendors. The document was split in two parts to make it easier to understand each group's responsibilities.

Last year, many legislators in the U.S. federal government talked about getting the wireless carriers to implement a "kill-switch" on their phones. However, the carriers refused, fearing that such a unified solution could be abused by hackers and actually put customers' phones in danger.

Another argument against the unified idea was that it would be best to leave the anti-theft solutions to smartphone manufacturers and other software vendors. The carriers believed that legislation that would mandate a certain type of kill-switch could be made obsolete, and regulation wouldn't be able to keep up with the innovations in the wireless sector.

The "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" between the U.S. carriers and smartphone makers goes into effect in July and will only affect models manufactured after the legislation is live. For older phones, the carriers recommended a resource of apps for all the main mobile operating systems, which can help smartphone users protect their phones.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • IWantDatHammer
    "No extra charge", they're going to have to add a little more in the pricing secretly I'm sure
  • Caanis Lupus
    But will this stop them from just flashing the phone?
  • hoofhearted
    This is stupid. The one thing that I care about is missing from the list. Remote GPS tracking. I want the phone to send an NMEA packet at an interval of my choosing to a server (ip address) of my choosing and I want this to be stealth. Someone steals my $700 phone, I plan to let them meet my friends, Mr Smith & Wesson