This past Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and major wireless network providers Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile (News - Alert) announced a new tactic to combat smartphone theft. The initiative, prompted by a dramatic rise in smartphone thefts, involves the creation of a national database which keeps track of stolen mobile devices and allows mobile providers to deny service to any device that has been reported stolen.
The logic is that fewer smartphone thefts will occur if potential thieves know that stolen smartphones won't be able to communicate with any wireless network in the US.
This announcement received an unusual response, however, in the form of a class action lawsuit filed in California this past Tuesday. Hilary White, Jeff Pello and Natalie Warren – all AT&T (News - Alert) customers who have had their iPhones stolen – claim the wireless network provider is liable for not enacting this anti-theft measure sooner.
The filed complaint, which alleges conspiracy, fraud, breach of contract, accessory to theft and unfair trade, states that AT&T has made "millions of dollars in improper profits, by forcing legitimate customers, such as these Plaintiffs, to buy new cell phones, and buy new cell phone plans, while the criminals who stole the phone are able to simply walk into AT&T stories and ‘re-activate’ the devices, using different, cheap, readily-available ‘SIM’ cards.”
San Francisco police officer Marc Hinch – who runs Stolen911, a database for stolen electronics and devices – previously stated that any network-capable device, from mobile phones to PlayStation 3 consoles, can be tracked by the manufacturing company. "There’s no corporate incentive to track them or to ensure they’re returned to their owners, though, because that person is just going to buy a new device, resulting in more sales," he added.
AT&T, which just introduced 4G LTE (News - Alert) service in St. Louis this week, isn't very concerned. A spokesperson for the company offered this statement on the matter: "The suit itself is without merit, but criminals stealing smartphones is a serious issue, which is why earlier this week we joined with law enforcement, the FCC (News - Alert) and other wireless carriers to announce additional steps to provide a comprehensive industry and government response to the problem of wireless device theft."