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Smartphones ship with a built with "Kill Switch" in South Korea

The South Korean government has introduced legislation which requires all domestic smartphones to be manufactured with a built-in kill switch that will render any stolen smartphones inoperable even if it's formatted.
August 20, 2013
emergency kill switch

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.