Making Money Off Stolen Phones

It’s not just the thieves:

A recent attempt by Samsung to pre-load Absolute’s LoJack app – software embedded in the firmware layer that assists device owners in either retrieving or disabling lost or stolen devices – was flatly rejected by the major American carriers, according to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. Such kill switches have been touted by law enforcement officials nationwide, who believe the inclusion of the technology in all phones would help curb phone theft. Gascón has been a vocal supporter, and along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, launched a campaign aimed at curbing smartphone theft.

So why would phone companies object to kill switches?

Gascón says carriers are more concerned about protecting their insurance premiums, a claim he says is based on emails between Samsung and mobile providers in which the latter reject the standard use of kill switches. “These emails suggest that the carriers are rejecting a technological solution so they can continue to shake down their customers for billions of dollars in (theft) insurance premiums,” Gascon told the AP. “I’m incensed. … This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers.”

The theory is that once thieves become aware that expensive smartphones won’t work if they’re stolen, the market for stolen phones will dry up, as San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza explained. Legally requiring kill-switches is a tactic that’s worked in Australia, Esparza said, to the tune of reducing phone theft by about 25 percent. “Adding kill switch technology to phones would definitely help reduce the number of thefts,” Esparza said. “When you kill the phone, there’s no longer an aftermarket.”