CTIA’s Voluntary “Kill Switch” Plan Gets Mixed Reviews

While public officials approve of the mobile industry's move to offer free software that allows users to disable stolen smartphones, some say the CTIA's plan should be opt-out, not opt-in.

While public officials support the mobile industry’s move to offer free software that allows users to disable stolen smartphones, some say the CTIA’s plan should be opt-out, not opt-in.

The wireless industry appears ready to embrace the “kill switch”—but will it go far enough?

That’s the question on public officials’ minds after CTIA: The Wireless Association announced an initiative this week under which smartphone manufacturers will voluntarily include or offer free software that allows owners to disable and wipe stolen devices remotely. The move has the backing of the big-name mobile device manufacturers—Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft—along with all of the major wireless service providers.

“We appreciate the commitment made by these companies to protect wireless users in the event their smartphones are lost or stolen,” CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said in a statement announcing the plan. “This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain.”

Largent emphasized that the industry needs to offer a number of strong technologies to prevent any one tool being a “trap door” that hackers can exploit.

The plan has long been in the works and came after some haggling between mobile providers and local governments over the issue. Mobile providers had initially resisted the idea, and at least one public official accused the companies of attempting to protect lucrative insurance contracts at the expense of their customers’ safety. Mobile devices have become a common target for theft in cities.

But with steps being taken at the state level—according to CNN, Minnesota’s legislature may be close to passing a bill mandating kill switches on smartphones—the tide appeared to be turning.

The CTIA’s announcement drew praise, but it wasn’t universal. California State Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat who represents parts of San Francisco, expressed concern that the plan doesn’t go far enough, since consumers will have to activate the technology voluntarily.

“While I am encouraged they are moving off of [their former opposition] 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,” Leno told CNN.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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