SAN FRANCISCO — New York state's top prosecutor is investigating why U.S. cellphone carriers have yet to embrace anti-theft software on Samsung smartphones, raising questions about possible coordination among the biggest carriers.
The New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, this week sent letters seeking information to the chief executives of five carriers, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile US and U.S. Cellular.
In the letters, Schneiderman requested detailed information on why the carriers were not supporting a so-called kill switch that Samsung Electronics wanted to load on its phones. The feature would have allowed users to “brick” their phones, or disable the devices remotely, to discourage criminals from stealing them.
“If carriers are colluding to prevent theft-deterrent features from being preinstalled on devices as means to sell more insurance products, they are doing so at the expense of public safety and putting their customers in danger,” Schneiderman said.
Samsung has said it was working on an anti-theft solution with the carriers. But last month, San Francisco's district attorney, George Gascón, said he had reviewed emails between a Samsung executive and a software developer that indicated that the carriers were unwilling to allow Samsung to load the anti-theft software on its phones.
The emails, Gascón said, implied that the carriers were concerned that the software would eat into the profit they made from the insurance programs that many consumers buy to cover lost or stolen phones.
Representatives of Verizon and Sprint contended that the two companies had not rejected any anti-theft software. Sprint said that it was working with vendors to consider a Samsung kill switch but that there were concerns and technical details that needed to be addressed. Verizon said it would support an anti-theft tool for Android phones if and when a manufacturer came up with a solution. A representative for AT&T declined to comment, and T-Mobile US did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for U.S. Cellular said the carrier had received Schneiderman's letter, but she would not comment further.
Schneiderman said in the letters that all the big carriers had reached the same decision to reject the kill switch around the same time last summer. Each carrier, he added, also shares close ties with CTIA, the industry trade group that represents the carriers and has publicly denounced the idea of a kill switch, as well as Asurion, the company that provides insurance programs that cover loss or theft for every U.S. carrier.
In his letters, Schneiderman asked the carriers to reply by Dec. 31.