Smartphones ship with a built with “Kill Switch” in South Korea

by: Robert TriggsAugust 20, 2013

emergency kill switch Credit: dumbledad

Phone theft has become an increasingly big problem since the price tags started creeping up on our smartphones. So much so in fact, that if you cast your minds back a couple of months, you may remember that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon co-hosted a summit with representatives from Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft regarding the introduction of kill switches in new US smartphones.

By a kill switch we mean a way of completely deactivating the device if it’s reported stolen, and that’s exactly what the South Korean government is now implementing in all new handsets.

The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning has introduced an act called the “complete preventive measures against illegal use of mobile phones”. This legislation requires that all domestic smartphones manufactured in the country, from today until the second quarter of 2014, be built with a kill switch that will render any stolen smartphones inoperable, even if it’s formatted.

This has big implications for local manufacturing firms, such as Samsung and LG, who are now required to swallow the costs of adding in this feature. However, Pantech already started implementing a kill switch in its domestic handsets last February, and is even planning on adding in GPS functionality to help track down stolen devices.

In theory, this seems like the ultimate deterrent for would be thieves, but I can’t help but feel that there are a few potential problems with being able to permanently kill a handset. GPS tracking seems like a safer option, as the authorities could track down the handset and return it to its rightful owner. But then there are some who would feel uncomfortable at the potential privacy intrusions.

It’s a tough balance to strike if you ask me. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if other countries opt for similar measures if the kill switch proves to be a success in South Korea.

  • acey_zero

    Call me a conspiracy theorist, but unless there is a secure way to transfer ownership of the “kill switch” in the case of a legitimate used phone sale, then I’m afraid the true intention of this is to kill the used phone market, just as IMEI blacklisting is doing.

    It is not much fun to know that at any time and for any reason the original owner of that nice used phone you payed hundreds of dollars for can blacklist or kill your device.

    • Noah Stelte

      I agree with you and I don’t think having a kill switch on a phone is necessary @ all. As consumers, we have the OPTION of enabling our phones to be tracked if we so choose through various apps and device managers. I don’t like the idea of this being mandated by the government.

    • Jason Yuen

      I agree. Companies are more than happy to implement kill switches because it deters second hand sales which arguably takes away from their bottom line. Samsung would rather you buy the Galaxy S4 mini than a second hand S2. Governments also benefit from this since second hand sales have no sales tax attached to them. It’s a big financial scheme if you ask me.

    • g0vt_h00ker

      Umm.. what? If someone sells you the phone and you both leave the transaction happy, what is it to them if your phone is active or not? Do you think they’d go through all the trouble just to fuck you over?

      • acey_zero

        A few people probably would use the kill switch after selling just out of spite, but there can be other motivations as well. For instance, the way IMEI blacklisting works, people sometimes sell their phone on ebay or craigslist with a clean IMEI, then after the sale they report the device stolen to collect on insurance. I just got burned by this last week… A kill switch would likely work the same way and be activated by the carrier when a phone is reported lost.

        But the main point is it is not a very nice feeling for someone else to have absolute power to disable your legitimately bought phone.

        I am actually not totally against kill switches and IMEI blacklisting though, I agree that smartphone theft is a major problem. There just has to be a simple and secure way to transfer ownership of the IMEI/kill switch for legitimate used phone sales.

  • Mayoo

    My N10 was stolen a while back. I called Google, they deactivated the Serial associated with it, next time they go online it will go “This device is no longer available blablabla”. Android Device Manager introduced an interfaced way of managing this. What more do we want? C4 on the back panel? Cyanure spitting microphone?

    • poop

      Actually, yes. But I want the C4 small and light, but also capable of packing a big enough punch to damage the phone beyond repair and possibly injure whomever’s stolen it :D
      Hopefully Samsung doesn’t make their own with this design, or we the actual owners may have to deal with this.

  • Chris

    It’s the government what do you expect? These F***s will do whatever they want, whenever they want ..

    • Leo R.

      It’s not the US’ government.

  • APai

    big daddy is getting bigger everywhere.

  • allen markow

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  • juan romero

    not bad