Smartphone theft continues to be a huge problem in the US. Ten percent of all thefts and robberies are associated with a mobile device, with the FCC stating that considerably more than one million smartphones were reported as stolen in 2013. Thankfully, theft deterrent methods, such as Apple's activation lock, are starting to work as iPhone theft rates have dropped considerably since Apple rolled out this functionality in iOS 7.
Apple's activation lock feature makes a device useless to the thief, even after hard resetting it, as long as the owner keeps it in their device history. I am surprised that the Apple deterrent method is already having an affect on the rate of smartphone theft, but am encouraged by its effectiveness.
The FCC reports (PDF link) that Apple's activation lock feature is reducing theft at significant rates. In San Francisco, activation lock is credited with helping reduce iPhone theft by 38 percent. In London the rate has dropped by 24 percent and in New York by 19 percent.
Kill switch functionality is being mandated in some areas of the country with Apple, Google, and others being pressured to include such a feature in phones. Google has a feature similar to Apple's activation lock contained in Android Lollipop. Factory reset protection will not allow someone to factory reset a device without entering the owner's Google credentials.
Remote wiping by the owner, via the current Android Device Manager feature, will help protect thieves from getting access to personal information. Hopefully with Apple and Google leading the way with device level kill switches, we will no longer hear of stories where people lose their lives to keep their smartphones.
As Apple Pay and Google Wallet usage grows, securing your smartphone is even more important. Both of the Apple and Google solutions are user-initiated so make sure to enable these locks as soon as you activate your new smartphone. Consumer Reports data shows that 34 percent of consumers fail to activate any security measure on their device.
I had a couple of phones and a new iPad mini stolen at the end of 2013. I had enabled Apple's activation lock on the iPad mini and continue to keep that device connected to my account so that the thief will never be able to use it, even after hard resetting it.
Thanks to GigaOM for the heads-up on the FCC report.