An article in the Wall Street Journal has reviewed the impact of so-called ‘kill switches’ on smartphone crime, and shown that different places exhibit contradictory patterns after the kill switches were introduced.
The concept of a kill switch is simple to understand. When a phone is lost or stolen, a remote signal is sent that renders the device completely inoperable. In effect, an expensive handheld computer is turned into a useless lump of plastic and metal – often referred to as a ‘brick’. iPhones have had kill switches since 2013, and earlier this year the Android operating system began incorporating a similar anti-theft feature. However, there are ways to reinstall software so ‘bricked’ phones can be reactivated, thieves might disconnect phones from their network to prevent the use of kill switches, and even a ‘brick’ has some value as parts or scrap metal.
Data from the American cities of Austin, Oakland and San Francisco showed that there was a fall in smartphone crime in the six months following the introduction of kill switches on iPhones. However, there was a 32 percent rise in the number of stolen iPhones in Seattle.
The WSJ article includes other useful data, and also discusses the merits of introducing laws that make it mandatory for kill switches to be activated by default. You will find the full WSJ article here.