Android phones will have 'kill switches'

The New York attorney general's office says 'kill switches' that disable devices if they are lost or stolen may be deterring theft. Photo / 123RF
The New York attorney general's office says 'kill switches' that disable devices if they are lost or stolen may be deterring theft. Photo / 123RF

Google and Microsoft will incorporate a "kill switch" into the next versions of their smartphone operating systems as evidence mounts that such security measures may be deterring theft, the New York attorney general's office said.

Mobile phone technology companies have faced pressure from public officials during the past year to add mechanisms to allow smartphone owners to disable the devices if they are lost or stolen, limiting their resale potential.

Read: Samsung adding anti-theft solutions to smartphones

More than 30 per cent of robberies in major cities involve mobile phones, with some instances of theft also including violence, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Following Apple's release of a kill switch in September, thefts of iPhones in some cities "plummeted," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who helped start a law enforcement coalition aimed at addressing the thefts.

The Secure Our Smartphones Initiative group said in a report on Thursday that robberies involving Apple products in New York dropped 19 per cent in the first five months of 2014 compared with the same period last year.

In San Francisco and London, robberies involving Apple products dropped 38 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, according to Schneiderman's office.

"The statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches and the commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety," Schneiderman said in a statement.

According to the analytics firm ComScore, Android has a 52.5 per cent market share in the US, while Apple has 41.4 per cent and Microsoft has 3.3 per cent.

Android phones will make up 80.2 per cent of global shipments this year, according to the research firm IDC. Apple, with its iOS platform, will have a 14.8 per cent share, IDC said.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, a Washington-based group representing the wireless industry, said in April that its members would offer technology next year to let customers remotely wipe data from their devices and render them inoperable when stolen.

At the time, Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who also leads the smartphone initiative along with London Mayor Boris Johnson, said that the offer fell short "of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft" and that anti-theft features should be enabled on all devices by default.

- Bloomberg

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