Is it time for Cell Phones to have a ‘Kill Switch’?

More than 3 million people in the United States had their cell phones stolen in 2013, almost double the amount of 2012 according to a survey recently released by Consumer Reports.

Donna Tappellini, a senior editor at Consumer Reports, says that “you have to take into account the fact that there are more smart phone owners now, but 3 million is still a pretty big number.”

The reason that smart phones are such a big target for thieves is because, frankly, smart phones are extremely lucrative and can be turned into cash quickly.  Even though there’s a national database that your carrier will add your phone to so that it can’t be activated again, this database doesn’t work in many other countries and, if your phone is brought there and sold, it can be brought “back to life”.

It’s because of this fact that the Atty. Gen. of New York, Eric Schneiderman, and the district attorney of San Francisco, George Gascon, formed the SOS Initiative (Save Our Smartphones) to push “kill switch” technology for smart phones to the forefront.

Both men believe that by giving a smart phone a “kill switch” that would make sure it never works again anywhere on the planet, the incentive for stealing them would be reduced drastically, and they are not alone. William Duckworth of Creighton University recently surveyed 1200 smartphone users and found that support for the antitheft technology was overwhelming.

“Not only do people want a free kill switch on all phones, they expect it,” Duckworth said. “Most people, 83 percent, really think this will bring down crime and 99 percent believe the wireless carriers should make that a blanket option for everyone,” Duckworth said.

Interestingly, many American wireless carriers have been opposed to the idea of a kill switch until recently, but Duckworth estimates that it could save American consumers upwards of $2.6 billion a year.

One industry that would be directly affected however would be companies that ensure smart phones who, according to Duckworth’s research, would see a huge reduction in coverage by smart phone owners newly confident that their phones won’t be stolen.

CTIA recently announced that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and US Cellular, the five major carriers in the United States, had signed on to the Smartphone Antitheft Voluntary Commitment, along with Apple., Google, HTC America, Microsoft, Samsung and Motorola.

The new initiative states that, after July 15, all new smart phones that are manufactured in the United States would offer an antitheft tool preloaded onto phones at no extra cost to smart phone users. The software being developed will allow the owner of the phone to erase all of their data remotely, prevent use of the phone without a password or PIN and, most importantly, prevent reactivation of the phone without the user’s authorized permission.

While Gascon and Schneiderman called the decision “a welcome step forward” they also said in a joint statement that the voluntary program “falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphones that.” In their opinion the antitheft features should be a default on all new smartphones and not something that customers would have to opt in to be able to use.

In California Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco has sponsored a bill in the California legislature requiring all smart phones sold in the state to come pre-equipped with theft deterring technology and, along with Gascon and Schneiderman, found the announcement from CTIA less than satisfactory.

Sen. Leno said in a statement that “For stolen phones to have no resale value on the black market, the vast majority of consumers must have the theft-deterrent feature pre-enabled on their phone,”  adding that “Inexplicably, the mobile industry refuses to take this approach, which will simply prolong the epidemic of thefts we’re seeing in California and the rest of the country.”

While no actual changes have come about as of yet, it’s highly likely that in the near future all smartphones will come with antitheft technology built in at the time they are sold. That day will be one for rejoice among millions of Americans who will have one less thing to worry about when it comes to their beloved smartphones.