Prosecutors seek 'kill switch' to prevent theft and 'Apple picking'

U.S. prosectors are hoping that a "kill switch" function will deter the theft of mobile gadgets.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
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To try and stop the rising number of smartphone thefts, U.S. prosectors are trying to convince manufacturers to include a "kill switch" that will disable stolen mobile devices.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said on Wednesday that they will meet on July 13 to meet with representatives of the four largest smartphone manufacturers to discuss the idea. The prosecutors intend to ask the firms to include a disability mechanism on future mobiles that will render the devices useless if taken -- which could eliminate the current incentives for theft and prevent smartphones being sold on to other users.

The Smartphone Summit is aimed at preventing the violence which can follow street crime to steal phones, known as "Apple picking." As mobile devices increase in value, U.S. police forces have seen a subsequent spike in the rates of violent theft.

In some recent examples of violent mobile device theft, on February 21, 2013, a 6 year old San Francisco boy was robbed of his mother’s iPhone, and in February 2013, three people were stabbed on a subway platform in Queens in a fight over an iPhone. Earlier this month, a woman was mugged at gunpoint in Crown Heights for her Android device. The prosecutors say that approximately 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involved a mobile device.

Although applications have been developed to keep track of stolen smartphones, both Gascón and Schneiderman have criticized the companies -- which have secured a majority marketshare -- for not tackling the issue sooner. On May 10, letters were sent to the Chief Executive Officers of Apple, Google/Motorola, Microsoft, and Samsung seeking information about the companies’ efforts to protect customers from "Apple-picking." These companies control over 90 percent of the market for mobile electronic devices. In response to those letters, all four tech giants agreed to attend the Smartphone Summit.

Representatives from Apple, Google/Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft will attend the meeting.

"The theft of handheld devices is the fastest-growing street crime, and increasingly, incidents are turning violent," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "It's time for manufacturers to be as innovative in solving this problem as they have been in designing devices that have reshaped how we live."

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