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Smartphone Makers Agree on ‘Kill Switch’ to Deter Thefts

Apple Inc., AT&T Inc. and 11 other smartphone makers and wireless companies agreed to offer technology next year that would let customers remotely wipe data from their devices and render them inoperable when stolen.

The technology is intended to combat a rise in mobile-phone theft. It will be available at no cost to customers on phones made after July 15, CTIA-The Wireless Association, said yesterday in a statement. The switch also would prevent reactivation without the user’s permission, and restore data and operability if the phone is recovered, the Washington-based trade group said.

Mobile-phone and service providers have been under pressure from Congress, police chiefs and state attorneys general to add more anti-theft features to devices amid a rise in robberies. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said the switch initiative “falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft.”

“We strongly urge CTIA and its members to make their anti-theft features enabled by default on all devices, rather than relying on consumers to opt in,” Schneiderman and Gascon said in an e-mailed statement. “The industry also has a responsibility to protect its consumers now and not wait until next year.”

U.S. Representative Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat who in February introduced a bill in Congress on phone theft, said that while the announcement is “an important step forward,” the industry should still do more.

Congressional Bills

“I urge them to go further and automatically install kill switches on all smartphones, to more quickly implement this crucial feature, and to ensure all carriers and manufacturers include it,” Serrano said in an e-mailed statement.

Serrano’s legislation would require carriers to give subscribers the capability to delete information remotely from a stolen phone and ensure the device can’t operate on networks.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, has introduced a similar bill that she said is supported by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a police group, and by Schneiderman, Gascon and the advocacy group Consumers Union.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 30 percent of all robberies now involve smartphones, Serrano said in his statement. In New York City, mobile phone theft has risen 40 percent in the past year, and now makes up 20 percent of all robberies, he said.

Other signers of the industry anti-theft agreement included

Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility, Samsung Electronics Co., Huawei Technologies Co., Microsoft Corp., Nokia Oyj, Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US, U.S. Cellular Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.’s Verizon Wireless, according to CTIA.

The steps announced yesterday “will make it more difficult for thieves to profit from criminal activity,” said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, which has pressed for anti-theft action.

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