Sprint Should Do the Right Thing

Sprint is skeptical. A Tacoma family insists that their phones are being hijacked. They are getting death threats, someone is watching them through the cell phone camera and leaving terrifying voicemails on both cell and home lines. You can see the Today Show story here.

I’ve heard the story on a couple of news outlets, most recently on NPR. The NPR host characterized Sprint’s response as saying it was not possible to do what the family says was being done.

From the Tacoma News-Tribune: Complaints to their phone companies do no good – the families say they’ve been told what the stalkers are doing is impossible.

From KIRO-TV: “We are unaware of technology that would enable the activity portrayed in this story to occur, and we will support law enforcement as appropriate on investigating the issue,” Caroline Semerdijian with Sprint Nextel said.

Media have trotted out a series of experts that say, yeah, it’s possible. In fact, not only is it possible, it’s relatively easy (like teen-prank-easy).

According to James M. Atkinson, a Massachusetts-based expert in counterintelligence who has advised the U.S. Congress on security issues, it’s not that hard to take remote control of a wireless phone. “You do not have to have a strong technical background for someone to do this,” he said Tuesday. “They probably have a technically gifted kid who probably is in their neighborhood.”

An old story on MSNBC even has Sprint saying it’s possible to hack into a phone. So, it’s possible that Paris Hilton’s phone would get hacked, but not this regular person from Tacoma?

Others disagree, saying is possible, but very very unlikely. Many fingers seem to point at someone the family knows as behind this. And some are even pointing at the 16-year-old daughter.

The family matriarch was interviewed saying that they were going to take a break from cell phones for a while. She’d just received her disconnection notice from Sprint and told them she had no intention to pay the bill.

This is an opportunity for Sprint to step up and do the right thing – even if Sprint thinks the family is full of crap. The family is working with local law enforcement, the FBI and even Homeland Security. Clearly the threat is real to each of them.

Sprint should:

  • Provide new cell phones. New phones, new accounts, new numbers. They should ensure that the numbers are secure, locked, blocked and as anonymous as possible.
  • Comp the family’s service until this is worked out.
  • Be visibly cooperative with law enforcement.
  • Start and lead a new industry-wide “cell phone security” campaign to educate people and work to develop protections for its customers.

Sprint should not:

  • Discredit the experiences or feelings of customers. Any customers, much less those who are getting national media attention.
  • Make any kind of absolute statements saying this hijacking just isn’t possible.
  • Avoid commenting on any media story (you can tell Sprint is NOT doing the right thing because they are avoiding the spotlight. If they were being good corporate citizens, they would be talking.)

Any potential financial loss that Sprint would take here is going to be returned 100-fold in enhanced reputation. The wireless industry is cutthroat and if I were a Sprint customer, I’d be thinking twice about renewing my contract with them.

What are your thoughts?

Photo: Allison Yin/News Tribune

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