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Smartphone makers, carriers embrace anti-theft initiative

By Marina Lopes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major U.S. wireless carriers and smartphone makers have agreed to introduce tools to enable users to lock their devices and wipe them clean of data if stolen, responding to pressure on the telecommunications industry to do more to stem theft.

Starting in July 2015, all smartphones manufactured by the companies will come with free anti-theft tools preloaded on the devices or ready to be downloaded, according to wireless association CTIA, which announced the agreement on Tuesday.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon welcomed the voluntary agreement but said it fell short of what they have advocated to prevent theft.

The prosecutors have urged manufacturers and carriers to carry the tools as a default in their devices, rather than having users download them.

"While CTIA's decision to respond to our call for action by announcing a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones is a welcome step forward, it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft," the prosecutors said in a joint statement.

In 2012, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones, according to Schneiderman's office.

The 10 device makers signing the voluntary agreement included Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Google Inc and HTC America Inc. The wireless carriers included Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc, Sprint Corp, T-Mobile US Inc and U.S. Cellular.

"This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain," said Steve Largent, chief executive of the CTIA.

The agreement extends individual decisions by Apple and Samsung to include features in their new mobile software that require a legitimate owner's ID and password before a phone can be wiped clean or re-activated after being remotely erased.

(Reporting By Marina Lopes; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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