Kill-Switch Idea Underestimates Smartphone Thieves' Creativity

By Kimberly Koerth Comments
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Mobile carriers are feeling increased pressure to standardize technology called "kill switches" that can remotely make a stolen smartphone useless.

This technology could save consumers up to $2.6 billion per year if it sees wide implementation and leads to a reduction in phone thefts. Most of the $580 million spent on replacing stolen phones would be saved if phone thefts decreased significantly, and another $2 billion could be saved by switching to cheaper insurance plans that don't cover theft, according to a report quoted in PC World.

Yankee Group VP of Research Carl Howe says the kill switch's main function is to prevent stolen phones from being used for illegal activities, so operators should also add a location service to allow stolen phones to be recovered, saving the consumer from having to purchase a new one.

“I think claims that a kill switch will reduce thefts underestimates the creativity of people who steal mobile phones," Howe said. "Thieves could prevent the kill command from getting to the phone by turning the phone off as soon as it was stolen and putting it in a wire-mesh Faraday cage. The phone could then be reprogrammed in an appropriately shielded workshop and resold, thereby keeping the stolen phone market alive. It’s going to take more than kill switch technology to reduce mobile phone theft, and that means that many of these savings on insurance are unlikely to materialize."

PC World said 99 percent of consumers thought mobile carriers should allow consumers to disable stolen phones and 83 percent thought the kill switches would reduce smartphone theft.

Carriers have resisted requests for standardized kill switches so far, but bills mandating a kill switch system have been proposed in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

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