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Smartphone Theft Plummets Thanks To Kill Switches

Users triggering a “nuclear option” to wipe and brick their stolen phones have made smartphones less attractive targets to thieves.

Smartphone Theft Plummets Thanks To Kill Switches
[Photo: Flickr user Jake Stimpson]

Smartphone thefts in San Francisco, New York City, and London have nose-dived, and officials are crediting the widespread adoption of smartphone “kill switches.”

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Kill switches allow users to remotely wipe phones of personal data and make them unusable–digitally “bricking” the phone into worthlessness. Politicians have rallied behind this nuclear option to make smartphones a less appealing target–California will require smartphones to have kill switches enabled by July 2015, while Minnesota has passed a law requiring them to be installed.

Overall, smartphone theft dropped by 27% in San Francisco, 16% in New York City, and by a solid 50% in London.

Apple implemented kill switches by default in iOS devices back in September 2013, after which iPhone theft declined 40% in San Francisco and 25% in NYC. Samsung started implementing its ”Reactivation Lock” kill switch in Aug 2014 and Google has introduced kill switches in its latest Android version, Lollipop. Microsoft is planning to include the feature in a smartphone software release in July 2015.

Despite widespread industry adoption of kill switches, only 1.6% of Android users run Lollipop, and Samsung’s kill switch is only installed on its Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 phones through specific carriers.

Apple has had the most success in getting users to adopt kill switches, as 97% of its device users have iOS 7 or later and the kill switch is connected to the iCloud service. Apple’s Find My Phone feature has had a kill switch option since January 2013 (though not turned on by default), and Find My Phone has let users remotely wipe personal data (though not disable the phone) since September 2012.

But having kill switches and having them turned on is an important distinction. Points to Apple for turning the feature on by default.

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[via Re/code]