Smartphone theft is a growing problem. With more and more people carrying around a $500 gadget in their pockets, muggers and pickpockets are targeting smartphone owners for a quick and easy buck on the aftermarket. Municipalities all over the country have noted the rise in cell phone theft, and so have the manufacturers. But as CBS News reports, when Samsung built in a user-accessible kill switch to deter thieves, the CTIA and the five largest carriers in the country wanted nothing to do with it.


Samsung submitted phones with software kill switches to the carriers earlier this year, probably starting with the Galaxy S4, to compete with a similar integrated solution on the iPhone. CBS reports that AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular all refused to allow the kill switch on their carrier-customized software builds. Why? The carriers didn't say, but San Francisco's District Attorney George Gascon suspects it's because the carriers don't want to cut into the sale of anti-theft insurance and the sale of replacement phones, which often go for the more expensive unsubsidized prices.

To be fair, that's complete speculation. The CTIA has assisted law enforcement by creating a national database of stolen phones, making it difficult or impossible to activate a stolen phone on the same carrier or a compatible one, an expansion of the previous blacklists that some carriers had already implemented. But since phones can easily be sold overseas to get around even a nationwide block, that's not likely to deter opportunistic thieves.

Gascon said that almost half of robberies and theft in San Francisco involve cell phones. He also estimates that the money garnered from phone insurance (at $7-8 per user) is about $60 billion dollars annually, a sum that could drastically drop if users had a way to permanently disable any phone that was stolen. It's also possible that carriers want to create their own kill switches, which would inevitably be linked to yet another service charge for their customers. Samsung's implementation would have been free.

So what can you do, aside from shake your fist in impotent rage at the continuing short-sighted greed of the US cellular industry? Google has a partial solution: the Android Device Manager, which is now included with every Android 2.2+ device using the Play Store, can remotely locate, ring, lock, or wipe your phone. But that's not nearly as effective a deterrent as a full kill switch, which basically turns the phone into a paperweight and makes it worthless for anyone trying to use it or resell it. It might take a while for the CTIA or the individual carriers to decide on a way to implement a true kill switch, but when they do, it's a safe bet that you'll be paying for it.

Oh, and removing Samsung's free kill switch? That's just one more reason your carrier-branded phone gets software updates later than international models. Thanks, carriers.

Source: CBS News via TechCrunch

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • Wynnded

    "...removing Samsung's free kill switch? That's just one more reason your carrier-branded phone gets software updates later than international models."

    -Did not know that bit.

    • shonangreg

      The carriers insist on approving all the base software on the phone. This does serve as a way to squash bugs, but it also allows them to keep anything off the phones they don't like. And it takes months. Getting a Nexus or an iPhone (or maybe a Google Experience phone?) are the most popular ways around this.

  • Carlos Rodríguez

    I think the GSM Association should create a GLOBAL database to stop the smartphone thievery.

    Here in muy country (Venezuela), most, if not all, stolen phones go to Colombia or Ecuador and they sell them there.

    If muy precious and well earned Nexus 4 gets stolen, I really want that the thief doesn't have an option but to shove it in his butt and learn that he can do a decent job and get a life.

    I'm not that worried about the data, but the phone itself because with our economy we almost end up paying like a $2000 dollars for a $300 phone. Yep, our currency it's almost worthless now :(

    The killswitch option should be mandatory too. And I have to say, the apple's implementation is very good. You can restore and wipe a device, but it can only be activated with the appleID of the owner. Google, should implement that. Maybe storing that info on a secure partition of the phone.

    Just my 2 cents.


  • Chris Caldwell

    is there a reason people dont just use the device central control?

    • Matthew Fry

      This is a semi-permanent deactivation switch. ADM only wipes or locks.

    • Justin W

      As Matt said, this would render the phone inoperable, regardless of location. I'm not sure if it's reversible or not (I would wager a bet that it's not, and if it is, it's only re-enablable by either the original e-mail address on the device when it was deactivated, or by Samsung themselves.

  • loyalty888

    So why haven't the carriers forced Apple to remove the software that allows iphones to be remotely wiped and locked?

    • Justin W

      My guess is Apple told them it's going on and they have no choice in the matter. Samsung may have taken payment to not include it, or they just don't have the balls to stand up to the carriers, but there is no good for the consumer reason this shouldn't be included with every device.

    • didibus

      This is not the same as wiped and locked, Android Device Manager can do the same thing. This is completely breaking the phone, making it non working forever on after.

      • Roh_Mish

        ADM can do such thing. after the device is rest and it connects to internet, google can still check the MAC address or the Unique ID of the device and remotely disable it again. The only thing they could do is install some custom firmware without Google Apps, which makes the device more or less a feature phone. Also the Secure element (Which they no longer put in new devices) can be used to store such info and whatever you do, it does not unlock.

  • Tee

    This may be a dumb question but why would I want to kill my phone rather than locate it and get it back? I'd rather not purchase a whole nother phone...

    • Areaf

      If every samsung smartphone have the kill switch, no thief would want to steal your samsung phone

    • Thatguyfromvienna

      So you get the location and it's a five story apartment building.
      Hard luck, hu?

      • mjku

        Contact the police with your info. Maybe they'll find someone with a prior record living in there.

        • Thatguyfromvienna

          Sure, that might happen. But maybe not and then I'd rather make sure nobody else can use that phone.
          In the long run, if all phones had a function like this, it would make stealing phones useless.

  • JT

    During summer my nephews GS2 was stolen from his school's football locker room together with others iphones, wallets, shoes, etc. Aside that the school didn't notified the police, when he reported his phone stolen to the carrier, I advised him to tell the virgin mobile guy to black list the phone so it can no longer be activated and to my surprise the guy told him that it was impossible to black list it, that there was no such thing. I see on tv and read a lot about if one notifies carriers about your phone being stolen it will get black listed but in reality they don't. So they'll get their customer to buy a new phone and most likely hoping to get a new customer with the stolen phone, that made me mad. All carriers should be sued on the grounds that they're promoting crimes by not doing enough to protect their customers property, by benefiting from stolen property acquiring new customers, because they have incentive on preventing new tech from killing devices or not preventing stolen phones from being activated, phone theft is not new, should had been in place years ago.

  • Paul

    First the Wallet/Isis story, now this. Maybe they'll learn to stop that bull once Isis (hopefully) crashes and burns.

  • Michael Fontenot


  • ewg

    Great. But outside of the US, most of us dont have any carrier garbage. So Sammy please protect our phones!

  • Chaucers Left Testicle

    To be honest, watching Samsung manage Knox has given me a healthy distrust of their ability to administer a kill-switch system effectively. I can see it now, plug your device into KIES, hear a beep, everything gone, phone bricked.

  • Mike C.
  • Bob


    "CTIA also said it supported legislation by Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, which proposed to make it a federal crime to modify cellphones to circumvent the stolen-cellphone database."

    "Mr. Schumer probably doesn't even know of Cyanogenmod, etc. Would those ROMs be illegal if they don't include the probably-not-open-source "anti-theft" apps?"