Smartphone thefts might yield kill switch

It’s no secret that smartphone theft is on the rise, and popular models like the iPhone are the target of bold, broad-daylight street thefts. IDG News Service reports that 41 percent of all serious crime in San Francisco consists of cellphone theft. A somber illustration of these statistics occurred on Dec. 14, when a smartphone thief murdered a 21-year-old woman.

As smartphone thefts increase, one potential remedy has bubbled to the surface: implementing a kill switch that would render stolen phones completely unusable.

San Francisco is already headed down that legislative path. State Sen. Mark Leno has introduced a bill to the California legislature that would require just such a kill switch on all phones sold within the state. The logic: If any phone that’s stolen cannot be reused, it’ll have no resale value, so smartphone theft should drop substantially. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is backing a similar measure in his state. 

If this passes, you can expect phone vendors to implement this technology across the U.S. – and likely even globally, as it makes little sense to sell special handsets just in California. On the other hand, San Francisco is also the locality that passed a law in 2010 that required retailers to post cell phone radiation levels despite the lack of any scientific evidence that cell phone radiation was harmful. That law was eventually withdrawn as the result of a lawsuit filed by the CTIA, a cellphone industry organization.

The good news is that if the risk of cell phone theft worries you, you needn’t wait for the government to mandate a kill switch. There are kill switch-enabled phones already for sale.

Specifically, iPhones running iOS 7 and all Samsung smartphones are so equipped. Apple’s activation lock allows you to prevent anyone from erasing, activating, or otherwise using your phone without knowing your Apple ID and password.

Likewise, Samsung has partnered with LoJack to deeply embed LoJack device recovery software on all of its smartphones. Although Apple’s solution is free, the LoJack service requires an annual subscription fee. Even so, Samsung and Apple together represent a significant market share. If you own one of these devices, knowing that your kill switch is enabled – and knowing how to manage it – could offer peace of mind as you carry your phone into the streets each day.