Software-based switches that allow users to remotely shut down stolen gadgets have helped reduce smartphone theft

'Kill switches' reduce smartphone theft

The number of smartphones stolen in large cities has dropped since manufacturers started implementing the so called ‘kill switches’ designed to remotely shut down stolen gadgets.

According to authorities in London, New York and San Francisco, the number of iPhones reported stolen has decreased by between 25 and 50 per cent in the twelve months after September 2013, when Apple introduced the kill switch into its devices.

"We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago," said Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, which saw the biggest improvement with smartphone theft dropping by half.

Johnson told Reuters that San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman were strongly pushing for new laws that would make the safety switches mandatory.

Despite the laws not being in force yet, smartphone theft has been cut in California thanks to the manufacturers voluntarily adding software for remote shutdown.

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

California's law, one of the nation's strongest, received wide support from California prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that hoped it could help reduce smartphone thefts.

According to the National Consumers League, handheld devices were stolen from 1.6 million Americans in 2012. In California, smartphone theft accounts for more than half of all crimes in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities.

Other states experiencing a rash of smartphone thefts have considered similar measures, and Minnesota passed a theft-prevention law last year.

So far, Apple, Samsung and Google have implemented kill switches on their smartphones, and Microsoft is expected to release an operating system for its Windows phones that has one this year, the three officials said in their news release.

But some of the smartphone systems require consumers to opt in, meaning not all will be protected when their phones are operating in the default mode.

Gascon, Johnson and Schneiderman called on all manufacturers to make the technology active as a default position, as Apple has done with its iPhones.

Smartphone theft infographic

Smartphone theft infographic  

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