N.Y.’s Schneiderman Says Carriers Reject Phone Theft Fix

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman criticized wireless carriers for blocking a technological fix aimed at deterring smartphone theft.

Reports of carriers blocking a proposed “kill switch” that would allow stolen phones to be disabled are “highly disturbing,” Schneiderman said in a joint statement today with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon.

“If they did so to protect their own profit margins, as several recent reports suggest, it is even more egregious,” Schneiderman said in the statement. “Companies that choose to prioritize profits over safety put consumers everywhere at risk.”

Gascon told reporters this week that carriers including AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Corp. (S) and T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS) rejected a solution proposed by smartphone maker Samsung Electronics (005930) Co. Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokeswoman for Gascon, confirmed today that the district attorney’s office had made those statements.

Representatives of the carriers didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the attorney general’s statement.

Schneiderman this month announced that a group of 31 state attorneys general was urging leading smartphone makers including Samsung to develop kill switches. The fix was intended to protect smartphone users by drying up secondary markets for stolen devices, according to Schneiderman’s office.

While crime in New York is falling, smartphone theft is increasing, Schneiderman said. In New York City, smartphone robberies rose 40 percent last year from the year before, according to Schneiderman’s office. Half of robberies in San Francisco last year targeted such devices, according to the attorney general’s office.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christie Smythe in Brooklyn, New York, at csmythe1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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