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US carriers reportedly oppose Samsung building anti-theft 'kill switch' into smartphones

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Samsung Galaxy Gear (verge 1020)
Samsung Galaxy Gear (verge 1020)

Major US wireless carriers have rejected the idea of a "kill switch" security measure being added to Samsung's popular Android phones, according to The New York Times. San Francisco district attorney George Gascón has been negotiating with Samsung to add tighter anti-theft features to its products, but mobile providers and the CTIA have reportedly come out in opposition to the plan. After reviewing emails between a developer and Samsung, Gascón is convinced that's because the companies fear losing reliable profits that come from selling cellular insurance plans to customers. These protection plans often cover lost or stolen items, but they almost always demand a high deductible (in addition to a regular monthly fee) when phones need to be replaced.

Are carriers worried about losing insurance revenue?

The carriers obviously have a different take. The CTIA has publicly stated that a kill switch "is not the answer" to mobile security, and has raised concerns that devices could be maliciously reset by hackers. Instead, the companies say they've already come up with a solution: a nationwide database designed to prevent stolen phones from being used on US carrier networks. But as the Times previously reported, some authorities say the database is doing little to prevent cellphone theft. "This is a crime that could be easily fixed with a technological solution," Gascón said earlier this year.

A "kill switch" would be Android's answer to Apple's Activation Lock, a new safeguard introduced in iOS 7 that lets users remotely deactivate a phone and wipe its memory. But even after an iPhone has been reset, the original owner's account credentials must be entered before it can be used again. Authorities hope this will dissuade thieves from targeting Apple products. For its part, Google allows consumers to track and remotely secure Android smartphones, but they're not quite locked down to the same degree. Gascón isn't pleased with the current situation. "We are now evaluating what course of action will be necessary to force them to prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets,” he told the Times.