Smartphone ‘Kill Switch’ Is No Cure for Crime

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.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Director of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.