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'Kill switch' coming to all smartphones in 2015

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 9:10am
AllVoices

Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft took time out from bashing one another and stealing each other's trade secrets to agree on something Tuesday. Under an agreement just announced, the major smartphone manufacturers will include a "kill switch" on every phone they release in the US. The agreement takes effect in July 2015, but some manufacturers are already adding the kill switch capabilities.

A kill switch allows you to "brick" your smartphone in case of theft. You"d basically be able to completely deactivate your phone, rendering it useless to anyone who had stolen it. You would also be able to wipe any and all data off the phone -- and more importantly, reverse these processes if your phone turned back up.

Re/code broke the news that all smartphones will have a kill switch, beginning in July 2015. The agreement was signed onto by Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, HTC and the four major wireless service carriers.

"We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen," said Steve Largent, President of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, in a press release. "By working together with policymakers, law enforcement and consumers, we will deter theft and protect users’ personal information on smartphones."

Yes, he is that Steve Largent. The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver from 1976-1989 is now the President and CEO of the wireless industry"s primary lobbying arm.

Under the agreement, all smartphones sold in the US will have the capability to do the following:

  • Wipe all the data, contacts, pictures and apps off your phone in the event that it is stolen.
  • Render the phone completely inoperable, except to call 911, even if you do not have the phone on you.
  • Prevent the phone from being reactivated, except by its original owner.
  • Reverse all of the above, and completely restore the phone to its previous state should you find or recover the phone.

These capabilities all sound fantastic, but the idea had some opposition. For one thing, some had feared that hackers, criminals or the NSA would be able to deactivate your phone without you knowing it. This could be used to lure people into situations where they can"t call for help, or to curtail the work of political activists or dissidents.

And the California state senator who proposed making this feature mandatory on all smartphones? He is not happy at all, because the agreement is voluntary and the manufacturers are allowed to back out anytime they want.

"Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive," state senator Mark Leno told Re/code. "While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablets."

Currently, the iPhone 5S already has the above features, and do the Windows 7 phone and the Windows 8 phone.

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