Android and Microsoft create mobile 'kill switch'

Jun 20, 2014

Kill switches aim to deter thieves by rendering stolen mobile devices useless

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Android and Microsoft have announced that they will add a "kill switch" to their next generation of smartphones in a bid to combat theft.

The innovation will allow a user to disable his or her mobile phone if it is stolen, rendering the device useless.
Authorities have been urging tech companies to introduce kill switches for years, the BBC says.

A US study found that theft of mobile devices has become a growing problem around the world. According to the study:

- A third of Europeans lost or had their mobile stolen in 2013
- In the United States, 3.1 million mobile devices were stolen in 2013, more than twice the number that were stolen the previous year
- Colombian criminals stole more than one million devices in 2013
- Theft of mobile devices in South Korea increased five-fold between 2009 and 2012

Manoj Menon, managing director of consulting firm Frost & Sullivan told the BBC that kill switches could help to deter would-be thieves.
"This is a fantastic move and will go a long way in helping authorities come one step closer to realising a vision of zero theft of mobile phone," he said.

Critics argue that there are problems with kill switches. Some warn that they could be hijacked by hackers and used to disable people's phones. Others worry that if a phone is put into aeroplane mode, it might not receive a kill signal at all.

But the feature has already been proven to deter crime, Android Community's Juan Carlos Torres notes. Apple introduced a kill switch feature to iPhones with iOS 7, which led to a 19 per cent drop in mobile phone thefts in New York in the first five months of this year and a 24 per cent reduction in London, according to a report by the New York State Attorney General.

"During the same period, thefts of other popular mobile devices increased," the report says. 

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I already have that facility, or something very like it, on my Nexus 5 via the free copy of Avast Mobile Security I installed (and I'm sure Avast isn't the only free service that offers a kill switch). Is this something different?