Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–February 16, 2015

U.S. Carriers Must Now Unlock Cell Phones for Free
Switching wireless carriers has just become a whole lot easier because the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), in compliance with President Barack Obama’s mandate, has issued a new code that requires U.S. carriers to unlock the devices for free. In August, Obama signed a bill into law forcing carriers to unlock cell phones. Wednesday marked the deadline for compliance. The idea, as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler put it, is to “give consumers the freedom to switch between carriers without having to purchase a new cellphone, allowing them to choose the mobile Relevant Products/Services service plans that fits their specific needs and budget.” Story by Jennifer LeClaire for Top Tech News.

Smartphone Theft Drops as Anti-Theft ‘Kill Switches’ Installed
Thefts involving smartphones have declined dramatically in three major cities since manufacturers began implementing “kill switches” that allow the phones to be turned off remotely if they are stolen. The number of stolen iPhones dropped by 40 percent in San Francisco and 25 percent in New York in the 12 months after Apple Inc added a kill switch to its devices in September 2013. In London, smartphone theft dropped by half, according to an announcement by officials in the three cities. Story by Sharon Bernstein for Reuters.

TracFone Fined $40 Million for Throttling Unlimited Data Customers
The Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with TracFone Wireless Inc. in a long-running lawsuit. TracFone agreed to pay $40 million to consumers who claimed the company advertised “unlimited” data plans, but throttled data transfer speeds when customers reached certain data limits. The TracFone plans from Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile and Telcel America were advertised at $45 per month with unlimited data. The FTC claimed the company would “throttle” or slow down the mobile data when customers went past a certain limit during a 30-day period. Throttling usually occurred when a customer had used 1-3 GBs of data in a 30-day period, and slow the data by 60 to 90 percent. If a customer went past 4-5 GBs of data, then their service would be suspended. Story by John Oldshue for SaveOnPhone.com.

Visa Will Soon Track Mobile Phones to Help Fight Card Fraud
Visa customers’ lives are about to get that much easier when they are planning to be traveling far from home. Whereas it was once necessary to call the bank before leaving or risk the bank turning off the card for fear of fraud at the first foreign swipe, now it seems Visa customers will be able to skip that step. Visa is offering its banking partners location tracking. The new service uses customers’ smartphones to verify their locations whenever a card is swiped. In the event of a mismatch, Visa uses additional screening measures to determine if the use is legit; the card won’t be cut off just because because someone happened to forget their cell phone in a hotel room. A location match indicates a lower likelihood of fraud, giving banks less incentive to mistakenly decline a legitimate transaction even if otherwise looks suspicious. Visa estimates it can take a 30 percent bite out of bad transaction denials with the new tech. Story in PYMNTS.com.

Chinese Phenom Xiaomi Coming To U.S. Without Its Hot Smartphones
Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker whose recent funding made it the most valuable startup in the world, wants that world to know that it’s busting out of China in a big way. In particular, the four-year-old company announced that it plans to open a version of its online store Mi.com in the U.S. in a few months. However, it will not be selling its main products, smartphones and tablets. Instead, it will test the waters by selling accessories such as headphones, the Fitbit-like Mi fitness band, and power banks for recharging phones. Story by Robert Hof for Forbes.

T-Mobile’s $5 a Month Score! Program will Let You Nab New Phones for Free
Some people like to upgrade their phones more often than others, and waiting two years or even one can seem like a century. For those people, T-Mobile introduced another program called Score, which allows users to switch over to new, highly discounted, entry-level devices after just six months, or lower-priced high-end devices after 12 months. Some phones will even be free, though the more powerful, brand-name devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5 will cost you more. Even so, T-Mobile says you’ll save up to $150 on the full price of the device if you join the Score program. However, there’s a catch: To join Score, you have to pay $5 a month for six months before the free, entry-level phone offer starts, or 12 months, if you want one of the high-end ones. Story by Malarie Gokey for Digital Trends.

Women in India Fight Sexual Harassment with Smartphones
Indian women armed with smartphones are using the clout of social media to fight sexual harassment by filming and publicly shaming men who molest them as greater awareness of violence against women spreads. The trend to name-and-shame sex offenders comes after the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012. The incident sparked public protests and led to a national debate about the security of women–encouraging victims once embarrassed to come forward to use smartphones to expose perpetrators. Story by Nita Bhalla for The Christian Science Monitor.

Banks Want to Open Cellphones to Robocalls
If the nation’s bankers and debt collectors have their way, robocalls could soon become as routine on cellphones as they are on household landlines. Industry lobbyists have asked the Federal Communications Commission to exempt them from rules that largely bar computer-generated cellphone calls and texts to wrong numbers or without a recipient’s permission. Their goal: to be shielded from liability, specifically lawsuits. Industry lobbyists say they have not been inundated with suits, but that possibility threatens to raise costs and chill incentives to ensure customers receive alerts about credit card fraud, identity theft or other important information. Story by Kathleen Day for USA Today.

Shell to Allow UK Customers to Pay for Petrol on their Mobile Phone
The vast majority of Shell’s 1,000 outlets will permit the app’s users to select their chosen petrol pump at each station, allowing customers to then fill up their cars. A receipt will be sent to the phone after fuelling is complete. After a successful pilot in 2013, the service will be available to Shell Drivers Club members from April and then nationwide later in 2015 through both the PayPal app and the Shell Motorist app. Story by Matt Warman for The Telegraph.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.