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

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman criticized wireless carriers after reports of them 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 yesterday 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. and T-Mobile US Inc. rejected a solution proposed by smartphone maker Samsung Electronics Co. Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokeswoman for Gascon, confirmed yesterday that the district attorney’s office had made those statements.

Torod Neptune, a Verizon spokesman, said in an e-mail that the company would support a free “kill switch” application for Android devices.

“No manufacturer has yet made one available and press reports to the contrary are inaccurate,” Neptune said. “Once a manufacturer submits something to us we’ll evaluate it and work to deliver the solution something to our customers.”

Stolen Phones

The CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, said in an e-mailed statement that it’s working to dry up the market for stolen phones. That includes creating an integrated database to prevent stolen phones from being reactivated and offering consumers a list of apps to download to remotely erase, track and lock stolen devices.

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.

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