Forget Just Locking Your Laptop's Wireless Modem, Now Operators Can Lock The Whole Machine

from the more-bars,-but-not-the-good-kind dept

Mobile operators are increasingly looking to sell non-phone devices like laptops and netbooks with embedded or add-on wireless modems as a way to boost their subscriber figures and generate extra income. Typically, consumers buy the device at a discounted upfront cost, then get tied in to a long-term contract for monthly data service (2 years at $60 per month seems to be the norm in the US). If users quit paying their bills, in theory, they’ve gotten a laptop on the cheap, though of course they’re still subject to the terms of the contract, and damage to their credit, and so on. But Ericsson, which makes a lot of the embedded modems, has announced some new technology it’s calling a “kill pill” that allows mobile operators to remotely lock a laptop by sending a signal to it over their network. The company says it’s ideal if a data user quits paying their bills, but it’s not hard to imagine mobile operators coming up with more nefarious uses for the device — like shutting a machine down if a user closes their account, even if they’ve fulfilled their contract.

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Companies: ericsson

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Comments on “Forget Just Locking Your Laptop's Wireless Modem, Now Operators Can Lock The Whole Machine”

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Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Wait. $1440 is cheap for a laptop?

Cheap Dell laptop = $399 3G connection = $60/m. Total for two years = $1839.

Remember, this plan is for the laptop and two years connection. The laptop is $100 and the connection is the same as it would be if you just got the USB device.

It’s like buying an iPhone and 2 year contract. The iPhone by itself is cheaper but you don’t have a connection for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wait. $1440 is cheap for a laptop?

No doubt! It will probably also “feature” cheap, non-serviceable batteries that won’t hold a charge after a year.

Mobile Operator solution one year in:
“Get a new Netbook! It will cost you more to replace the battery, plus this one’s twice as fast!”
Netting +2 more years on contract.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait. $1440 is cheap for a laptop?

Now we’re nitpicking. For all we know the lower powered laptop will cause the battery to not only last longer between charges but have a longer overall life.

The Cell phone I have now would put any iPhone’s battery to shame, but I would still be paying the same for a data plan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wait. $1440 is cheap for a laptop?

Now we’re nitpicking. For all we know the lower powered laptop will cause the battery to not only last longer between charges but have a longer overall life.

Not really, Chronno.

It seems practical application of such a low-powered machine would be primarily in a mobile fashion to supplement on-the-go application. To contrast, people usually bring their phone wherever they go, and it remains relatively stable temperature-wise. But due to a laptop/netbook’s size, it’s possible such a device will be left in a car much more often.

To this end, it’s known that leaving a LiION-powered devices in a hot environments (such as a car) can result in rapidly degraded energy density and decreased charging capability.

So it is quite possible to see netbooks/laptop batteries fail more often than phone batteries due to application/forgetfulness of maintaining the device in a room-temperature environment.


R. Miles says:

Re: Re:

that a company would be stupid enough to remote detonate laptops after the contract is paid out?
Wait, you mean they don’t?

Because Verizon did exactly this to one of our cell phones after our contract expired and we chose to move to AT&T.

Thinking we would sell our phones (notifying buyers phones were Verizon specific), imagine our surprise when one of the phones couldn’t be re-activated because is was disabled by Verizon, despite being their branded phone.

The only thing which remained on it was 911 dialing out.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Love Of Class Action Suits

Right. Because what average consumers really want to do is launch class action suits…not have laptops and phones that still work.

And class action suits are so fruitful for the consumers in the class. When the consumers “win” the case, they’ll each get a $15 coupon for any goods in the carrier’s retail store, and the class lawyer will get $7M.

Your theory seems to be “You lose, but you really win because now you can file a class action suit.” That’s silly. There’s no “win” in needing to sue for justice (except if your an attorney).

But I appreciate your continuing to try to shift your argument after R. Miles proved your premise dead-wrong. It’s more comforting than saying “Oops, my bad.”

mike42 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Evil Mike, you hit the nail on the head. I can already see the next virus targeting Windows boxes (stick it to the man!) that flips the switch, and “poof” no more laptop. Of course, it will change the activation code as well, so the provider cannot turn it back on.

Just more proof that stupidity is more powerful than intelligence, because there are limits to intelligence…

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Remote Detonate"

Not going to happen – I am not stupid enough to fall for the “cheap shaver expensive blades” theory. I own my laptops. I own my phones, and they are not locked.

Again, if the contract says “at the end of the term or termination of your contract, your laptop will be disabled”, well, then you should have known. But doing it without informing the end user would open a big can of legal worms.

Not A Good Idea says:

Trivial to bypass this ...

Its really trivial to bypass this (based on the info that is so far available on this). Just remove the 3G modem that came originally with the laptop, you will have a perfectly working laptop (sans the 3G connectivity, ofcourse you are free to add another 3G modem or equivalent of that). Or just “kill” the radio. All radios on the laptop always come with a kill switch.

What about the potential for abuse ? What if someone figures out to send the “right” SMS message to targeted laptops (for fun or profit ?)

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Positive Applications of Kill Switch

Let’s also consider the practical uses of the Ericsson kill feature. I had a Netbook stolen earlier this year, and would have loved to be able to remotely kill the device. I know it’s not foolproof (hard drive could still be extracted), but security is additive, and this would add. If the HD were encrypted to a fingerprint reader, a dead laptop would mean the HD was also un-readable. IT departments would appreciate this feature.

I can understand the carrier’s desire to have the ability to stop the laptop of someone who has stopped paying the bill. It’s a contract. If the consumer doesn’t honor their end, the carrier should have some remedy. I don’t think they would abuse it past the 2-yr point, as a backlash would
definitely ensue (forget class action suits, a backlash is more useful). However, I see the risk of erroneous triggering, or malicious triggering of the kill switch by the carrier or by hackers.

For those of you who have done the math on $60 x 24 months = $1440, congrats on your math skill. But the average customer is able to match your 5th grade calculation, and decide if the deal is worth it for them. If not, buy an unsubsidized laptop, no whining required. But for some people who want both a new laptop, AND a cellular modem, why not take the $300 discount for a 2-year committment. Freedom of choice isn’t a bad thing.

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