For $30 a year, owners of the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone can either track it or render it useless if it's lost or stolen.
Because the new anti-theft LoJack feature is nearly impossible for a thief to shut off, it's considered far superior to apps that offer tracking and remote-wipe services. The S4 is the first smartphone to carry the technology for consumers.
The LoJack service from Absolute Software has long been available for laptops, and more recently for tablets. But with smartphone theft becoming common and deadly, the company wanted to give consumers a stronger option to recover stolen or lost mobile devices.
The S4 comes with a small set of code inside its firmware. Tracking apps typically rest on the operating system software, which rests above the firmware. As a result, a thief can quickly delete or circumvent them. Tampering with the firmware to get rid of LoJack would take far more effort.
In the meantime, the device owner could ask Absolute to activate a kill switch. That would delete data off the device and stop it from ever rebooting. The other option would be to have Absolute start tracking the device’s location and work with law enforcement to catch the thief and get the device back.
Absolute Chief Executive John Livingston described the two options as the perfect combination.
“If you’ve been harmed or have no backup, you want some recourse and some insight into who’s got the phone and where did it go,” he said. “If it’s old and lost in the back of a cab and you have it all backed up, you can just brick it.”
Absolute’s LoJack for tablets and laptops has 6 million paid subscribers, Livingston said. Hundreds of devices are recovered each week, with a majority of customers opting to track and investigate instead of kill.
Livingston said 5,000 convictions have been based on its LoJack data. More than 30,000 cases have been solved.
Prosecutors and law enforcement officials nationwide have been demanding that smartphone makers embed strong theft-deterrence technologies in phones. And Samsung’s move with its 3-month-old Galaxy S4 is being applauded as a step in the right direction.
[Updated, 9:40 a.m. PDT July 16: The Save our Smartphones coalition would prefer a free kill switch solution. Absolute said in a statement that it was working with Samsung to provide that option to Galaxy S4 owners for free.]
In the meantime, Galaxy S4 owners can sign up immediately for a LoJack subscription as long as four years. A subscription must have been bought prior to loss or theft for the technology to work.
“There’s nobody else out there that tracks and recovers with a tool that’s persistent,” Livingston said.
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