CTIA’s stolen smartphone database is complete – but will it curb theft?

Stolen Smartphone Database

The CTIA on Wednesday announced that the database system for lost smartphones launched by the country’s main mobile operators back in April 2012 is finally complete, beating the initial November 30th deadline by a few days. The database will allow local carriers to block the activation of 4G and 3G smartphones not just in the U.S. but also abroad, as it will also integrate with similar databases from international carriers. But San Francisco district attorney George Gascón believes that the new database will not be that effective. “The UK tried a national registry and has not slowed down thefts,” he told The Verge.

Last week, the same Gascón testified that the same carriers who helped build the CTIA database, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, rejected the “kill switch” proposal, which would have further increased protection against smartphone theft with the help of pre-installed software. While Gascón said that carriers were against the idea for fear of losing additional revenue coming from smartphone insurance, the CTIA said that a kill switch software is not a solution, as it would also come with some potential side-effects such as allowing hackers to reset smartphones that weren’t actually stolen.

However, when announcing the completion of the stolen smartphone database, the CTIA also encouraged users to take additional precautions to avoid having their smartphones stolen, including installing apps that would track and wipe lost devices. “Another important element to stopping stolen phones is consumers,” CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said. “To assist users, we offer a list of apps to download that will remotely erase, track and/or lock the stolen devices.”

So far, while both Apple and Google provide tracking software solutions to find lost smartphones, only Apple has an Activation Lock feature in its latest mobile OS version that lets users deactivate and wipe an iPhone remotely in case the device is lost or stolen. Furthermore, in order to be used again, the iOS device needs to be reactivated using the same iTunes account.

CTIA-The Wireless Association® Announces Wireless Providers Completed Final Deadline to Create a Database for Stolen 4G/LTE Devices

November 27, 2013

WASHINGTON – In April 2012, CTIA, FCC and police chiefs from major cities announced a four step plan to help deter smartphone thefts. As each deadline approached, the participating wireless companies met the requirements within the time limit. The final step of the plan, due November 30, 2013, was to create a database for 4G/LTE in the U.S., and when possible, integrate with international databases.

Please attribute the following to CTIA-The Wireless Association® President and CEO Steve Largent:

“Today, I am pleased to confirm that the global, multi-carrier, common database for LTE smartphones has been finalized and implemented in advance of the November 30, 2013 deadline. The matter of stolen devices is extremely important to the wireless providers, which is why they worked so hard over the last year to meet each deadline on time. As more countries and more carriers around the world participate in the 3G and 4G/LTE databases, criminals will have fewer outlets since these stolen phones would be blacklisted and could not be reactivated.

“Another important element to stopping stolen phones is consumers. To assist users, we offer a list of apps to download that will remotely erase, track and/or lock the stolen devices. We also remind consumers to pay attention to their surroundings. Similar to your purse or wallet, it’s best to not call attention to your smartphone and create an opportunity for a thief to steal it (e.g., leave it on a restaurant table, use it while walking or taking public transportation, allowing strangers to ‘borrow’ it to get directions, etc.).

“We continue to believe that combating stolen cellphones will require a comprehensive effort. We encourage consumers to use currently available apps and features that would remotely wipe, track and lock their devices in case they are lost or stolen, and our members are continuing to explore and offer new technologies. We also strongly support and need Senator Schumer’s legislation to pass that would impose tough penalties on those who steal devices or modify them illegally since it would help dry up the market for those who traffic in stolen devices. We also need more foreign countries and carriers to participate in the global stolen phone database to prevent criminals from selling stolen devices internationally.

“By working together with everyone – from the wireless companies, law enforcement, policymakers and consumers – we will make a difference.”

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