Late Payment? Google Releases App to Cripple Phone

John Lister's picture

Google has built an app that will stop smartphones working if a customer is behind on payments for the handset. It could also be a way to make more expensive phones available to people with poor credit histories.

The app is already being used by a carrier in Kenya. There's no word yet on whether Google plans to offer it to carriers in other countries. (Source:

"Device Lock Controller" is an app that can be pre-installed by carriers on new phones. It appears that once the app is in place, the carrier is able to remotely reinstall the app even if the customer removes it.

If and when the carrier triggers the app, the phone will be partially locked. The user will be able to accept incoming calls and make calls to emergency services. They will also be able to backup or restore data and access settings menus. Other features such as outgoing calls, apps and web browsing will be blocked.

Apps Blocked If Payment Overdue

When and how the app is triggered would be up for the carrier and user to agree. In the Kenyan example, the carrier will activate most of the block once the customer is four days overdue with a payment. They will then block outgoing calls and SMS text messages from the seventh day.

The customer then has until 30 days overdue to make the payment and regain full access. After that they will be banned by the company and their details passed to a credit reporting bureau. (Source:

It's a set-up that could make sense in many cases, though certainly has some risks on both sides. The biggest advantage is that it could persuade carriers to sell handsets on payment plans to customers with low credit scores. This could include people who have not built up a credit record.

Admin Error Could Be Painful

The logic would be that if a customer is struggling with income, the threat of their phone being blocked would persuade them to prioritize paying the carrier over other commitments. That's certainly good for the carrier if not the customer's overall financial position.

One risk is that no matter how secure the app and setup, some customers will try to find a way around the system. Another issue is that the carrier's billing system may have errors, and a customer who has kept up payments finds their handset is wrongly blocked.

What's Your Opinion?

Would you use this system to get a more expensive handset? Is it best suited to developing markets or is there a place for it in richer nations? Should carriers and manufacturers concentrate on handsets people can afford to buy outright?

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Navy vet's picture

Please tell me how? It seems a way to get phones into the hands of deadbeats.

ronangel1's picture

I pay phone bills by direct debit and have low usage so would not affect me.But If I needed to use phone urgently or someone with me and found blocked would not be happy.
I would not buy a phone from a provider or use/sign network contract allowing them to do this.
There is nothing to prevent a person getting phone then selling before/or after it stops working if that is their intention,to be used in another country where the buyers can unblock.

Draq's picture

This sounds like those devices in some cars that will disable the car if the buyer hasn't made their payment. What worries me is that companies could quite possibly be sneaky and use this to disable phones for reasons other than late payments. It smells of possible abuse.

OadbyPC's picture

I wonder what the CCP (Chinese Communisty Party) et al would make of this?