T-Mobile ad criticized for belittling smartphone theft

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman take issue with one of T-Mobile's ads for its "Uncarrier" campaign.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere. Lori Grunin/CNET

T-Mobile is hot water again for one of its "Uncarrier" campaign commercials.

The latest comes in the form of a letter written by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calling for the carrier to pull one commercial parodying a smartphone theft because they felt it belittled the issue.

"This ad is more than tasteless: These robberies often turn violent and have resulted in severe injuries and multiple deaths," the letter said.

The ad features comedian Bill Hader getting accosted in a parking lot. But when the thief sees how old the smartphone is, he backs away, prompting Hader to insist that thief take the phone.

Gascon and Schneiderman criticized T-Mobile for not taking steps to further reduce smartphone theft as well as making light of the issue to sell more phones.

"The many victims of theft do not need to relive these harrowing incidents by way of a television commercial, and T-Mobile should not be lending credibility to thieves by reenacting the scenes with a comedic slant," the letter said.

T-Mobile said it takes seriously the issue of smartphone theft and maintains it is working with the industry to deal with the issue.

"This collaborative work, including carriers, manufacturers, and other parties, aims to find new deterrents and other measures to thwart this kind of crime across the country," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

The two government officials have been on a campaign to push the wireless industry to take more steps to reduce smartphone theft, including a "kill switch" that would be embedded into devices. The company has worked with the likes of Apple and Samsung Electronics on such a security measure.

It's not the first time T-Mobile has been criticized for its ads. The National Advertising Division slapped its wrist for ads that it claimed went to far in its claims of superior bandwidth over AT&T.

John J. Legere
T-Mobile US, Inc.
12920 SE 38th Street
Bellevue, WA 98006

Dear Mr. Legere,

We are writing in regards to an offensive ad from T-Mobile featuring comedian Bill Hader. The ad, which shows Hader being robbed for his smartphone, seeks to make a joke of the growing epidemic of smartphone theft. This ad is more than tasteless: These robberies often turn violent and have resulted in severe injuries and multiple deaths.

Consumer reports estimates that more than 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012, many thousands of whom were presumably T-Mobile customers. What's shocking is that despite the victimization of its customers, T-Mobile has not only refused to take steps to reduce theft, it's making a joke of the situation in order to upsell its customers to newer phones.

We strongly urge you to pull these ads. The many victims of theft do not need to relive these harrowing incidents by way of a television commercial, and T-Mobile should not be lending credibility to thieves by reenacting the scenes with a comedic slant.

We also urge you to take action to implement effective theft deterrents. Relying on an ineffective solution such as the CTIA database or incremental theft deterrence features on the part of the manufacturers is not enough. What is T-Mobile doing to make its customers safer?

T-Mobile is profiting from the theft of smartphones and the victimization of its customers, and now its advertisements are undermining the seriousness of a crime which has reached epidemic levels. It's time for telecommunications giants such as T-Mobile to step up and make meaningful progress towards implementing safeguards that protect consumers against these violent thefts. Anything less demonstrates a lack of concern for the safety of its customers.

George Gascon
San Francisco District Attorney

Eric Schneiderman
New York Attorney General

Tags:
Mobile
TVs
Phones
About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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