Police in New York, San Francisco and London claim they've seen a dip in smartphone thefts, something police are claiming is courtesy of a new push for "kill switch" technology that can render a phone useless if stolen. NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman tells the New York Times
the reduction in thefts is courtesy primarily of Apple's new Activation Lock anti-theft measure.
Six months after Apple introduced the measure, and police say iPhone robberies dropped 38 percent in San Francisco, 24 percent in London, and 19 percent in New York. It would, of course, be nice to check law enforcement's math and include all smartphone thefts to confirm whether this data is accurate. Smartphone thefts doubled in 2013 after all, and the drop could be just a dip back to normal after a spike -- or related to other efforts entirely.
Schneiderman, for whatever it's worth, has no doubt kill switches are to thank:
"The introduction of kill switches has clearly had an effect on the conduct of smartphone thieves,” Mr. Schneiderman said in an interview. “If these can be canceled like the equivalent of canceling a credit card, these are going to be the equivalent of stealing a paperweight."
The kill switch push only came about after other efforts repeatedly failed to impact smartphone theft.
Two years ago wireless carriers and the government announced
that they'd be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number, not just the SIM card ID). The goal was to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance.
The move came after AT&T was sued for doing little to track or stop theft
, the lawsuit alleging it was more profitable to do nothing and cash in on stolen phone re-activations. The lawsuit (and government prodding) spurred AT&T to develop new anti-theft tools and FAQs
, and carriers in general have been working hard to try and prove they care about cell phone theft.
Still, law enforcement has complained the database has proven ineffective because many phones wind up overseas, and stats rose regardless. As a result, New York and San Francisco lawmakers recently started pushing laws that mandating kill switches, and Minnesota recently became the first state to require them. Carriers however have fought the idea for years because, again, they tend to make money on the re-purposing of stolen devices
After several years of such resistance, carriers recently agreed to begin implementing kill switch technology sometime in 2015. The full voluntary anti-theft systems they'll implement are outlined here
, with a focus on opt in
services that can wipe personal data, render the device inoperable (reversible if recovered), and prevent re-activation.
Some of the states and politicians behind kill switch laws complain the plan doesn't go far enough
because the systems will be opt in. Though profit may be their primary motivation, carriers are joined by a number of people who correctly argue that if a user can remotely cripple a device using these tools -- so could a hacker.
Handset OS makers are also at work on the issue. Microsoft this week stated they'd be including a kill switch for Windows Phone
in a future update. Google is also promising kill switch technology will soon make it into a future version of their Android operating system.