FCC pushes companies on phone theft

 

The Federal Communications Commission is increasing the pressure on smartphone companies to create a “killswitch” to decrease phone theft and protect personal data.

During an agency workshop on the topic Thursday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pushed companies in the wireless industry to develop a tool for all smartphones that allows users whose phones have been stolen to wipe the devices of their personal data and make the phones inoperable.

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“It is time to have an automatic, common solution that everybody can take advantage of to protect their mobile device and protect themselves,” he said.

In 2012, CTIA-The Wireless Association and some companies made a voluntary commitment to take actions to reduce cellphone theft, including education consumers.

On Thursday, Wheeler pushed for more.

“It is time to come back with a solution and, one way or another, to get the solution in place within six months,” he said.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also spoke at Thursday’s workshop, encouraging participants to develop tools to deter phone theft.

“If you are successful, you are going to make all of us more safe” by putting “an end to the ugly, surging business of cellphone theft,” she said.

The FCC members were joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who have introduced bills that would create a national standard for phone “killswitches.”

If a user can render a phone inoperable with a simple, automatically-installed feature, thieves will have less of an incentive to steal — often violently — smartphones, Klobuchar said.

“To me this is all about eliminating that incentive,” she said.

Serrano echoed the calls for industry action on cellphone theft, noting some industry opposition to technical mandates.

“Industry folks, whenever you present something to them, their first reaction is, we can’t do that,” he said.

But companies must seize on the “increasingly common ground” on this issue to create a tool “that is there, readily available, for you to clear your phone,” he said.

“Our current efforts have not been adequate to stem these incentives.”