emergency kill switchImage credit: dumbledad

The smartphone “kill switch” is an idea that’s been floating around for a little while now. Last year US prosecutors were mulling the idea over, and South Korea has gone so far as to pass legislation that requires all domestic smartphones manufactured in the country to be equipped with a kill switch.

A kill switch which renders a handset inoperable acts as an obvious deterrent for would be thieves, but a new study also suggests that it could save consumers billions of dollars a year, and not just from handset replacements.

William Duckworth, a statistics professor at Creighton University, has conducted a study which found that consumers could stand to save around $2.5 billion if handsets were equipped with kill switches. $500 million of this amount would come from a reduction in crime and therefore less money spent on replacing handsets, whilst a further $2 billion is spent on purchasing handset insurance through carriers. That’s a big potential saving for consumers, but it’s doubtful that carriers would be so happy about losing out on that amount of revenue.

“Manufacturers and carriers need to put public safety before corporate profits and stop this violent epidemic,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon

A persuasive sounding piece of research, but it could be based on an unachievable scenario. It seems that phone theft would have to decline dramatically before anything close to this sort of saving could be achieved. Not forgetting that thieves aren’t necessarily even interested in reselling working handsets. Smartphones can always be harvested for parts and broken models can always be sold online to unsuspecting customers. It’s currently unclear exactly how such deterrents would impact real crime rates.

Furthermore, Asurion, a company involved in the phone insurance business, believes that around 60 percent of insurance claims come from handsets which are lost, not stolen. Even without phone theft, it’s likely that many consumers would carry on purchasing insurance to cover losses and damages. Perhaps the $2.5 billion saving is over-stated.

“there is no solution that will totally eliminate the theft of smartphones as there are other values in the black-market for the phones, such as parts.” Bettie Colombo, Asurion spokesperson

The final piece of research in Mr Duckworth’s report suggests that 99 percent of respondents were in favour of having a kill switch feature on their phones. Being the cynic that I am, let’s put this research to the test with our own poll.

There’s mounting pressure from political and law enforcement figures, as well as some consumers, for companies to do more to help deter phone theft, but it’s still not clear if kill switches really are the ideal solution. What do you make about all this, would you purchase a handset with a kill switch?

[poll id=”502″]
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