Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, had proposed installing a built-in anti-theft measure known as a "kill switch" that would render stolen or lost cell phones inoperable, but San Francisco's top prosecutor says the nation's biggest carriers have rejected the idea.
District Attorney George Gascon said Monday that AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, United States Cellular Corp., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. rebuffed Samsung's proposal to preload its phones with Absolute LoJack anti-theft software as a standard feature.
The wireless industry says a kill switch isn't the answer because it could allow a hacker to disable someone's phone.
Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement officials have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.
Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices - mostly smartphones - cost consumers more than $30 billion last year, according to a study cited by Schneiderman in June.
Samsung officials told the San Francisco district attorney's office in July that carriers were resisting kill switches, and prosecutors have recently reviewed emails between a senior vice president at Samsung and a software developer about the issue. One email in August said Samsung had pre-installed kill switch software in some smartphones ready for shipment, but carriers ordered its removal as a standard feature.
"These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums," Gascon said. "I'm incensed. ... This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers."
Samsung said it is cooperating with Gascon, Schneiderman and the carriers on an anti-theft solution but declined to comment specifically about the emails.
"We are working with the leaders of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative to incorporate the perspective of law enforcement agencies," said Samsung spokeswoman Jessica Redman. "We will continue to work with them and our wireless carrier partners toward our common goal of stopping smartphone theft."
Although the popular Samsung Galaxy smartphones are shipped across the country without LoJack as a standard feature, users can pay a subscription fee for the service.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, 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.
The CTIA says