iPhone, Other Device ‘Kill Switches’ Little Threat to Criminal Networks

Smartphones sold in California are now required to come with an opt-out “kill switch” to deter theft, but will this new legislation make thieves think twice before swiping that iPhone with your company’s information on it?

A first-of-its-kind law went into effect July 1 in the Golden State. It not only requires smartphones to come with a kill switch, but demands that device owners activate it when they set up their new phone. The “switch” allows users – or businesses that supply their employees with phones – to remotely wipe and “brick” their devices in case of loss or theft, rendering it unusable.

“As this technology is implemented ubiquitously, and as older phones are slowly phased out, I expect this epidemic to become a thing of the past,” George Gascon, San Francisco district attorney, said in a Forbes article.

Consumer groups are supporting the new law, to the chagrin of operators which once thought they could charge for a service such as this as a type of insurance policy. The bigger issue for operators might be the users who misplace their phones for a day or two, “brick” them, and then tie up a customer-service representative with the task of “unbricking” – think of all that data that might not be backed up – when it wasn’t necessary to do so in the first place.

We’ve come to expect a lot of our wireless operators, and this type of quick recovery might be no easy task.

“… we wonder how effective the strategy really is,” noted Wally Swain, senior vices president with 451 Research. “iPhones have kill switches and we doubt they are any less of a target (and maybe more of a target because of their consumer appeal). We suspect the international criminal network that fences stolen phones has a way to unbrick, or at least has a market for stolen iPhone bricks (e.g., for those who want others to think they can afford an iPhone). Consumers who do not know their phone has a kill switch, do not know how to use it or do not want to use it believing their phone will eventually ‘turn up’ contribute to the problem.”

Follow senior online managing editor Craig Galbraith on Twitter.

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