iPhone Thefts Plummet After Apple's Kill Switch Introduced - Technologist
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iPhone Thefts Plummet After Apple's Kill Switch Introduced

It seems obvious, in retrospect, that the mass adoption of smartphones would lead to a vast increase in muggings: people are carrying $600 devices on them, after all. Indeed, that's exactly what happened, and iPhones were especially popular. (Those white earbuds are a dead giveaway.)

We've covered a handful of proposed laws, at the state and federal level, that would mandate on-by-default (opt-out) "kill switches" in smartphones. The idea is that if this is a nearly universal feature, thieves are going to give up -- after all, it's really hard for a casual thief to flip a locked iPhone.

Apple's new Activation Lock was introduced in iOS 7, and is already providing proof that a kill switch bill is a good idea.

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iPhone Thefts Plummeting

Apple introduced iOS 7 last fall, and buried under the massive graphical update was the "kill switch" that lawmakers have been hoping for: Apple's Activation Lock.

How did it affect theft? According to The New York Times, comparing data from six months before and after the feature was added:

  • iPhone robberies in San Francisco dropped 38 percent;
  • iPhone robberies in London dropped 24 percent;

As for New York City, Apple-related robberies dropped 19 percent and grand larcenies of Apple products dropped 29 percent for the first five months of 2014, year-over-year.

Meanwhile, Samsung theft went up 51 percent during the same time period. (Samsung added a kill switch in April.)

All Aboard the Kill Switch Train

Apple introduced its switch last fall. Samsung added one in April. What about everyone else?

According to the Times, Google is adding a kill switch to the next Android update. Microsoft will add one for Windows Phones as well. And a conglomerate of carriers and manufacturers, earlier this year, pledged to include free anti-theft software by next summer.

As for legislation, Minnesota passed a mandatory kill-switch bill in May, while the Times notes that California's bill is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown's signature. With a state or two on board, and the early statistics showing that kill switches work, it seems like universal kill switches are a foregone conclusion at this point.

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