Some of the biggest US cellular networks have been accused of preventing Samsung from installing anti-theft remote "kill switch" software on smartphones: supposedly, because they were worried it would eventually cut into profits.
San Francisco district attorney George Gascón said he had been working with Sammy to get the LoJack security software installed by default on the South Korean manufacturer's Android handsets. But when Samsung pitched this to the five main US carriers they all said "no, thanks", it seems.
Gascón told The New York Times that he'd seen emails between Samsung executives and a software provider about the system which indicated that the mobile phone companies were concerned that such a system would discourage thieves, and therefore discourage consumers from buying anti-theft insurance and hurt sales of new replacement handsets.
"Corporate profits cannot be allowed to guide decisions that have life-or-death consequences," Gascón said. "This solution has the potential to safeguard Samsung customers, but these emails suggest the carriers rejected it so they can continue to make money hand over fist on insurance premiums."
Gascón is particularly peeved because phone theft is such a problem in his jurisdiction. Almost 50 per cent of all thefts in the San Francisco Bay Area are of smartphones, and so he formed the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) Initiative with New York's attorney general Eric Schneiderman to find a solution.
The dynamic duo organized a test between the LoJack software for Android phones and Apple's activation lock system to see if such software could provide a solution to the problem. Based on the response from carriers so far Gascón said he was looking into other avenues.
"We have repeatedly requested that the carriers take steps to protect their customers," Gascón said. "We are now evaluating what course of action will be necessary to force them to prioritize the safety of their customers over additional money in their pockets."
The CTIA, formerly the Wireless Association, which represents the carriers, said that it was working with police to set up a database of stolen phones that can't be reactivated within the US. It is also sponsoring legislation that would make tampering with phones so they didn't show up on the database an offense. But it doesn't believe a software kill switch is the way to go.
"When everyone – from the wireless companies, law enforcement, policy makers and consumers – work together, we will make a difference," said Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA. ®