Smartphone Kill-Switches ‘Reducing’ Thefts In London

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Mayor of London says smartphone kill-switches are making London safer, but wants industry to make them compulsory

Smartphone kill-switches are helping to reduce the number of mobile phone thefts in London, New York and San Francisco, according to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and US authorities.

Johnson is co-chair of the ‘Secure our Smartphones’ initiative, which has campaigned for the mobile industry to introduce kill-switches, which render a phone unusable unless it is recovered by the original owner, as a theft deterrent.

Apple was the first company to implement a kill-switch in September 2013 while Samsung, Google and Microsoft have either introduced such a feature or have plans to do so, ensuring the majority of smartphones sold are covered.

Smartphone thefts

boris johnson mayor of London © landmarkmedia ShutterstockSince the arrival of ‘Activation Lock’ in iOS 7, thefts in London, New York and San Francisco have all fallen.

In October 2014, instances of stolen mobile phones were 40 percent lower than the same month the previous year and the monthly average of phones stolen has halved since September 2013, resulting in 20,000 fewer victims in the capital annually.

In New York City, there has been a 16 percent overall drop in phone robberies between January 2013 and December 2014, while iPhone thefts fell by a quarter. Over the same period, San Francisco phone robberies fell by 27 percent, with stolen iPhones down by 40 percent.

“We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago,” said Johnson. “In London we convened the major phone manufacturers and urged them to do more to protect their own customers, and the advent of a kill switch in late 2013, in conjunction with the enforcement efforts of the Metropolitan Police, has been key to this turnaround.

“The private sector has a responsibility to prevent crime and I am delighted that through the SOS initiative, global cities like London, New York and San Francisco are coming together to help solve our shared public safety challenges.”

However despite the apparent success, Johnson and his US counterparts are calling for the industry to do more. Currently, iOS is the only platform to activate its killswitch by default, with Android’s an opt-out feature. Windows is due to receive an update later this year adding the functionality.

Campaigners say that if all phones were covered by default, thieves would definitely know that the phone they were targeting would be useless if reported stolen and would have next to no resale value.

However, from July 1, all phones sold in California are legally required to come equipped with a kill-switch. Manufacturers have indicated they will not make handsets specifically for the state, meaning compliant devices are likely to be sold across thje US

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