Phone Thefts Drop as Kill Switches Become More Common

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring all smartphones sold in California after July 1 to contain kill switches, but technology companies already are moving to meet the requirement nationwide.

by John Wildermuth and Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle / February 11, 2015

(TNS) -- Smartphone thefts have dropped dramatically in San Francisco and at least two other major cities since “kill switches” started appearing in more cell phones, said District Attorney George Gascón, who has pushed the change.

“The wireless industry continues to roll out sophisticated new features, but preventing their own customers from being the target of violent crime is the coolest technology they can bring to market,” he said in a statement.

The number of smartphone robberies in San Francisco dropped 27 percent in 2013-14, greater than the 22 percent overall drop in robberies. Gascón attributes the change to a strong worldwide push for the inclusion of kill switches in all new phones, which allows stolen phones to be remotely disabled and made useless.

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB962, a bill requiring all smartphones sold in California after July 1 to contain kill switches, but technology companies already are moving to meet the requirement nationwide.

Apple’s kill switch, called Activation Lock, was introduced in September 2013 and is now standard in its new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has had a kill switch since April, and both Microsoft and Goggle plan to include kill switches in their next software updates.

Along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Gascón is co-chair of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, which has called on wireless companies to adopt kill switches worldwide.

“The huge drops in smartphone theft that have occurred since the kill switch has been on the market are evidence that our strategy is making people safer in our cities and across the world,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

So far, it seems to be working. In New York City, cell-phone thefts are down 16 percent, Schneiderman said, and 40 percent in London, according to Mayor Boris Johnson.

©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle