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Carriers reject kill switch for stolen smartphones

SAN FRANCISCO — Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, has proposed installing a built-in anti-theft measure known as a "kill switch" that would render stolen or lost phones inoperable, but San Francisco's top prosecutor says the nation's biggest carriers have rejected the idea.

District Attorney George Gascon said Monday that AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, United States Cellular Corp., Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. rebuffed Samsung's proposal to preload its phones with Absolute LoJack anti-theft software as a standard feature.

The wireless industry says a kill switch isn't the answer because it could allow a hacker to disable someone's phone.

Gascon, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other law enforcement officials have been demanding that manufacturers create kill switches to combat surging smartphone theft across the country.

Almost 1 in 3 U.S. robberies involve phone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Lost and stolen mobile devices — mostly smartphones — cost consumers more than $30 billion last year, according to a study cited by Schneiderman in June.

Samsung officials told the San Francisco district attorney's office in July that carriers were resisting kill switches, and prosecutors have recently reviewed emails between a senior vice president at Samsung and a software developer about the issue. One email in August said Samsung had pre-installed kill switch software in some smartphones ready for shipment, but carriers ordered its removal as a standard feature.

"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 said. "I'm incensed. ... This is a solution that has the potential to end the victimization of their customers."

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