Would a smartphone kill switch deter thieves?

Stealing smartphones can apparently be very profitable. The more valuable the device is, the greater the payoff can be. ‘Apple picking’ (Pepitone 2013) will usually result in the highest payouts on the black market. This explains why smartphones are bait for thieves. According to Gogolak (2013), ‘about 113 smartphones are lost or stolen each minute in the United States and (…) cellphone thefts account for 30 to 40 percent of all robberies nationwide.’ If a smartphone is not protected by a password, private information can be accessed which can lead to identity theft.

The Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) initiative was formed in 2013 to help oppose the rise of smartphone theft and the rising injuries and deaths resulting from it. This initiative proposes to add kill switch software to smartphones, which will allow users to remotely delete phone content and make it unusable in case it gets stolen.

However, a lot of smartphone companies already provide a standard application in their systems, e.g. Apple’s ‘Find my iPhone’ app and Samsung’s ‘Reactivation Lock’. This means that ‘at least 68 percent of U.S. smartphones already have something akin to the “kill switch” capability. And that number is only expected to grow: Google and Microsoft have also announced plans to put these kinds of features in their (…) systems.’ (Tsukayama 2014).

This August, a law was passed in California that requires smart phones to have a built in kill switch. However, this law does not specify how the switch should be designed and implemented (Lewis 2014). Currently the Dutch Ministry of Safety and Justice is consulting with smartphone companies about the kill switch. Opposition states that a kill switch imposed by a government might in the end give that governments the power to turn off people’s cellphones. What do you think? Is a kill switch a must have for every smartphone? And should it be imposed by governments?


Dove LL 2014, Why don’t carriers want a kill switch for stolen phones? How Stuff Works, viewed 4 October 2014, <http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/kill-switch-stolen-phones.htm&gt;.

Gogolak EC 2013, Smartphone Makers Pressed to Address Growing Theft Problem, The New York Times, viewed 4 October 2014, < http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/smartphone-makers-pressed-to-address-growing-theft-problem/&gt;.

Lewis D 2014, California Passes Smartphone Kill Switch Law, Forbes, viewed 4 October 2014, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelewis/2014/08/29/california-passes-smartphone-kill-switch-law/&gt;

Pepitone J 2013, Would a smartphone killswitch deter thieves? CNN, viewed 4 October 2014, <http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/13/technology/mobile/smartphone-theft/&gt;.

Tsukayama H 2014, The smartphone “kill switch” explained, The Washington Post, viewed 4 October 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/08/27/the-smartphone-kill-switch-explained/

Vroegrijk M 2014, Killswitch krijgt prominente plek in Nederlandse Samsung-toestellen, NU.nl, viewed 4 October 2014, < http://www.nu.nl/gadgets/3894243/killswitch-krijgt-prominente-plek-in-nederlandse-samsung-toestellen.html&gt;


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