Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft are among technology vendors that have agreed to introduce anti-theft smartphone kill switches in future devices.
The theft of smartphones is a rising problem. The devices are small, easily swiped, and valuable; and at the moment, there are few solutions that will deter criminals from earning a few dollars by pinching these devices.
But what if a user could remotely turn their gadget in to a brick, rendering the item useless?
According to William Duckworth, Associate Professor of statistics, data science, and analytics at Creighton University, anti-theft technology could save device owners up to $2.6 billion a year.
Device manufacturers have begun adding additional security to devices, such as Apple's Find My iPhone feature in iOS7 and similar feature updates to Android's device manager, but carriers and firms that profit through theft — whether by insurance or replacing stolen handsets — have dragged their feet and hampered progression in the area.
While there has been resistance to the idea of a kill switch, companies have bowed to pressure. Starting July 2015, a number of heavyweights in the mobile device category have committed to introduce kill switches that let users remotely lock and wipe their handsets if they are stolen.
Wireless association CTIA says:
"Each device manufacturer and operating system signatory of Part I of this 'Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment' agrees that new models of smartphones first manufactured after July 2015 for retail sale in the United States will offer, at no cost to consumers, a baseline anti-theft tool that is preloaded or downloadable on wireless smartphones."
CTIA says that the initiative means vendors will include anti-theft tools for free, already installed on devices or available for download. Contacts, emails, images, and personal data can be wiped remotely, the smartphone will be rendered inoperable without a password or PIN — except for emergency calls — and software must also "prevent reactivation without authorized the user's permission (including unauthorized factory reset attempts) to the extent technologically feasible."
In a move that can only benefit consumers, vendors including well-known brands have agreed to introduce the feature. The full list of participating companies are Apple, Asurion, AT&T, Google, HTC America, Huawei Device USA, Motorola Mobility LLC, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless.
Sadly for those of us in countries other than the US, the agreement does not cover our mobile devices. However, we can hope that the initiative will be available for all consumers no matter where they live.