If you’ve ever fallen victim to cellphone theft, you’re likely familiar with the cascade of inconveniences, security and privacy worries, and expenses that follow. But you are hardly alone. Cellphone insurance specialist Asurion says about 60 million cellphones are stolen each year.
It is, in other words, a national problem — one of such scale that police departments, the Federal Communications Commission, and the wireless phone industry announced this week that they plan to allow carriers to develop a central database to track stolen phones and wirelessly disable them.
One backer of the effort, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been an advocate for online and mobile privacy, also plans to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to tamper with a phone’s UDID, or unique identification number. “Our goal is to make a stolen cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet,” Schumer told the New York Times.
Over the next six months, the Times adds, each of the four largest carriers the U.S. — Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile (PINK:DTEGY) — are expected to implement a program to disable phones reported as stolen.
A story recently published by MarketWatch highlighted the potential cost of a lost or stolen smartphone, whose cache of data can include credit or debit account numbers and personal address lists, and whose replacement price can run higher than one of Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) 64GB iPhone 4S’s. The article points out that some carriers, including Verizon, currently offer insurance that includes a phone-location service, remote locking, and remote removal of data.
The national plan, however, would address phone theft in a more sweeping fashion. Within 18 months, the FCC plans to help the companies merge their databases to create a national system that not only would disable stolen phones for use on a particular network but also prevent them from being altered for use on another carrier’s network.