International

With Kill Switches, Smartphone Thefts Plummet In London, NYC And SF

"Kill switches" are proving deadly to smartphone theft, which has dropped by half in London, 40 percent in San Francisco and 25 percent in New York City in the year after Apple added a kill switch to the iPhone, Reuters reported.

Apple added the ability to shut down an iPhone remotely in September 2013. Samsung, Google and some other Android phone makers have also added the feature, and Microsoft is expected to have that in the next version of its mobile operating system.

Officials in the three cities launched a coordinated campaign in July 2013 to get smartphone makers to add a kill switch feature. London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote to eight companies, including Apple, Samsung and Google, pointing out that 10,000 handsets were stolen each month in London, and arguing that phone makers had a "corporate responsibility" to help discourage thefts.

In California, a kill-switch requirement was passed into law, though it won't take effect until July 1, 2015. But Apple added "activation lock" and "delete phone" features to its Find My iPhone app in September 2013, and other phone makers have begun to follow suit.

But some -- including Apple's original kill-switch feature -- are not turned on by default, so not all phones are automatically protected. Apple made it the default with iOS 8 in September 2014, and London's Johnson, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón called on all phone makers to do the same when they released the theft statistics on Tuesday (Feb. 10).

(Apple had extra motivation in having a lockdown capability in iOS 8 turned on by default -- that's when Apple Pay could turn a stolen iPhone into a stolen wallet as well.)

But it appears that just the availability of a kill-switch feature is having the desired effect. According to statistics released jointly by the three officials -- which largely cover the not-on-by-default period -- the NYPD recorded a 16-percent overall drop in mobile phone robberies between January 2013 and December 2014, including a 25-percent drop in iPhone thefts. Over the same period, San Francisco saw a 27-percent overall drop in cell phone robberies, and a 40-percent fall in iPhone theft.

And in London, the number of smartphones stolen between October 2013 and September 2014 dropped by half from the year-earlier period, although the actual number of smartphone-theft incidents only dropped by 40 percent.

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