This Feature May Be The Reason Why Fewer Smartphones Are Being Stolen Today
New York State Office of the Attorney General
The number of smartphones reported stolen has decreased in the last year, particularly in major cities like New York, San Francisco, and London.
Kill switch applications, which enable smartphones' authorized users to remotely deactivate their devices, could be a factor.
The news comes from a report issued Thursday by the Secure Our Smartphones ("S.O.S.") Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials, and consumer advocates headed by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
The group has spent the last year working with mobile industry stakeholders to adopt a kill switch as a default, opt-out solution for mobile devices. The coalition has a theory: instating kill switches across all devices, essentially making them "useless 'bricks'" in the event of theft, can reduce the secondary market for stolen phones and reduce the incentive for theft. Authorized users can later reactivate their devices by entering in their own personal information.
"The introduction of kill switches has clearly had an effect on the conduct of smartphone thieves," Schneiderman said in an interview with the New York Times. "If these can be canceled like the equivalent of canceling a credit card, these are going to be the equivalent of stealing a paperweight."
It's possible smartphones across the country will soon have to include kill switches. In February, California State Senator Mark Leno introduced a bill that would require kill switch features enabled on all smartphones sold in the state. Later that month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) introduced federal legislation to require carriers and manufacturers to make kill switch features mandatory for all smartphones in the U.S.
Last September, Apple unveiled "Activation Lock," a kill switch available on all iPhones running iOS 7. In the first five months of 2014, theft involving Apple products plummeted in New York City, compared to the same time period from 2013. Similarly, San Francisco reported a 38% decrease, and London saw a 24% decrease in phone theft.
Samsung began to implement a similar kill switch feature, called "Reactivation Lock," on its Verizon Wireless devices in April. Microsoft and Google have confirmed that both companies will integrate versions of kill switches into future versions of their phones.