Would a “kill switch” help prevent smartphone theft? NY and SF prosecutors think so

by: Robert TriggsJune 13, 2013

emergency kill switch Credit: dumbledad

Possibly one of the best upgrades shown off at the iOS7 unveiling was the enhanced security features which help prevent thieves from using stolen iPhone’s. Extra security is certainly a deterrent to would be thieves, and we were also recently wondering what other manufacturers could do to improve the security of their own handsets.

So sticking with the theme of device security, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon are set to co-host a Smartphone Summit with representatives from Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft today. The main objective of the summit will be to discuss the introduction a “kill switch”, which should be capable of completely deactivating a smartphone should it be lost or stolen. Afterwards they’ll also be launching the “Save our Smartphones” initiative, aimed at promoting their cause.

But I am hesitant to agree that a master one time “kill switch” is the perfect solution. Part of me is convinced that it will probably end up causing problems for owners who could fall victim to the system themselves, especially when it comes to used handset sales. That’s not to say that something probably doesn’t need to be done about phone theft, as one report suggests that 113 smartphones are lost or stolen every minute in the US, with 1 out of every 3 robberies involving the theft of a mobile phone.

In the meantime, Android users can fortunately install third party applications, like Cerberus for example, which can lock, report the location of, and even erase data on your smartphone remotely if you’re unlucky enough to be a victim of phone theft.

What do you think about the prospect of a “kill switch”: an excellent, much needed idea or a solution which could causes more problems than it solves?

  • ljhughes8

    it would cause more problems. but there should be some education about the different apps for phone security.

  • Zach Mauch

    It all depends on who is given control of the “Kill Switch”. It needs to be part of the ownership of the phone and at the sole discretion of the owner themselves.

  • APai

    “113 smartphones are lost or stolen every minute in the US”
    are you sure ? that’s like a LOT

    • JosephHindy

      That stat probably includes people who left their phone in the pocket of their previous pants and files a police report on it. I live in the US and believe me sir, a lot of our citizens’ brains are blank checks that are never cashed.

  • TechGuy

    Cerberus is excellent. Unfortunately a thief does not know it is installed and may still steal a phone. If all phones had a Cerberus or Apple type lock then phone theft my be dramatically reduced. Then it will be back to cash and credit cards thefts!

  • On a Clear Day

    Why can’t they register each phone according to its serial number so that if it is stolen no one – anywhere on any network can possibly activate it or use it again?

    That would in essence be The Big Kill Switch in The Sky.

    Right now people can take stolen phones and use them; if they can’t connect them – end of motivation to steal.

  • IncCo

    As far as im concerned a kill switch already exists? Just report the IMEI number of the phone and you’ll never be able to make a call with it again.

    • mrjayviper

      can still sell overseas using ebay or use as a ipodtouch-like device (can then use apps like skype/viber/etc to make calls)?

  • Arieanna

    As your intuition is telling you, kill switches are not going to solve everything, they are only one part of the solution. With a true kill switch, device tracking is disabled. Without device tracking, police have no information to recover devices or to track down criminals responsible for violent crimes. Even with tracking, law enforcement professionals often don’t have enough information to obtain a search warrant – additional investigation is needed.

    The only solution on the market offering comprehensive post-theft investigation (not just GPS tracking) to assist law enforcement and phone recovery capability along with a kill switch is made possible between the partnership with Absolute Software and Samsung for the new Galaxy mobile devices. Yes, the first true solution is for Android! http://www.absolute.com/en/landing/13/samsung

  • Mike

    The question is who will be in charge of this kill switch – provider or owner.