Security

Anti-theft kill switches in smartphones just got a little less creepy

US peeps now get more control over tracking and remote wipes

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco

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Some of the largest smartphone vendors and mobile carriers in the US say they have hit a milestone in the use of privacy-friendly anti-theft tools.

The 16 members of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Committee said Tuesday that as of the end of the month, all smartphones they ship and activate in the US will not only be pre-installed with anti-theft options including remote wipe, remote lock, and restore-on-recovery, but will also give owners the option to disable those tracking and anti-theft tools if desired.

The group, backed by the CTIA, includes Apple, Google, Microsoft, Motorola, LG, Samsung, HTC and Huawei, as well as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile – meaning the overwhelming majority of devices and mobile plans in the US are now compliant with the Committee's anti-theft commitment.

That commitment plan, first unveiled in 2015, first called for the anti-theft tools to be installed on all new handsets made by its members. The second phase, which has now been reached, called for vendors to put options in place that can allow owners who so desire to disable some or all of those options if they don't like the idea that their smartphone could be remotely tracked or accessed.

This, the members believe, will allow US phone owners to obtain devices that by default have anti-theft tools, but also allow owners the ability to easily disable some options if they choose to.

Among those applauding the milestone is FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who offered a statement in support of the move.

"CTIA and its members understand that smartphone theft remains a serious problem and that anti-theft tools only work if adopted widely," Wheeler said.

"Today, I applaud the wireless industry's steps to make anti-theft tools accessible and available for consumers." ®

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