It looks like the kill switch debates will be back in business again. FCC chair Tom Wheeler has come out once again to call on the wireless industry to arms against smartphone theft. And his favorite solution, which is a point of contention for many players in the smartphone industry, is the kill switch. And again, Wheeler urges carriers to make that feature “opt out” instead of the current “opt in”, meaning it should be turned on by default in all cases instead of the optional status quo.
The kill switch issue has been going on for years, though it would seem that, by now, it has practically won to some extent. In essence, a kill switch will lockdown a smartphone and render it practically useless in case of theft or loss, protecting the user’s data. It was a bit later that the definition would include a way to bring the device back to a working state with the proper authorization of the owner.
That feature has largely been implemented by platform and device makers, like Apple and Google, and some even through third party apps. However, all of those require that users turn them on first. In fact, it presumes that users are aware of the feature at all. This nullifies the benefit of the feature, a song that the FCC has been singing for quite a while now. It wants the security feature, which it deems essential, to be enabled by default.
The biggest opposition to that proposal comes from the CTIA, the industry association made up mostly of wireless carriers, and therefore the last stop before devices reach consumers. At first the CTIA opposed the idea of a kill switch itself. It eventually softened its position and drew up a voluntary agreement that would make it semi-mandatory but only for those who signify their agreement.
The FCC, however, wants more than that. Its Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group released a set of recommendations regarding theft prevention features and you can guess which one is at the top of the list. To facilitate its quick implementation, Wheeler has called out the industry to make that kill switch not just available but also enabled. The CTIA has yet to respond to this latest challenge.