An Apple iPhone 5s.
Apple's iPhone "kill switch" is apparently making would-be thieves think twice.
The switch locks up iPhones running iOS 7 unless the authorized user is there to unlock it — preventing thieves from being able to wipe over or repurpose stolen phones by doing a factory reset. And a new report makes the case that the kill switch has dramatically reduced iPhone-related crime.
Following Apple's lead, Google said in a statement to Bloomberg that it would implement a "factory reset protection solution" in the next major version of Android, expected to be revealed at Google I/O next week.
Microsoft said Windows Phone would also be getting theft-deterrent features in an upcoming software update, and Samsung introduced its own kill switch this past April.
The report, initiated by the New York State and San Francisco Attorneys General in June 2013, was a response to the rising tide of smartphone thefts. In the U.S., smartphone thefts nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, totaling around 3.1 million.
But that seems to have changed, at least for iPhone and iPad owners. In New York City, robberies of Apple products dropped 19% in the first five months of 2014 compared with those months a year earlier. Grand larcenies involving Apple devices plummeted 29% over the same period.
iOS 7, which includes the kill switch feature, was released in September 2013.
Meanwhile, Samsung users seem to be more in danger than they were a year ago. Robberies and larcenies of the company's smartphones climbed more than 40% in New York City from January to May of 2014, as shown in the graph below.
And it's not just New York City. Crime related to Apple products fell by 38% in San Francisco and 24% in London. Robberies and larcenies of Samsung smartphones trended up at a rate of 12% in San Francisco and 3% in London.
iPhone users can make sure their kill switch is enabled by tapping on settings, then iCloud, followed by "Find my iPhone." If the slider is set to on, users will be able to lock the phone and erase data remotely.
The attorneys general and other officials who are a part of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative are pushing for kill switches to be an automatically enabled feature.
Windows Phone 8 will have several theft-deterrent features by July 2015, Microsoft says, pending various approval procedures. Those features will let users erase data remotely, just like the iPhone's kill switch, and will only allow the phone to call 911. Only authorized users will be able to reactivate it.
Kill switches are fast becoming a legal requirement. The Minnesota government last month became the first state to require them in smartphones sold there. The requirement will go into effect next July.
Secure Our Smartphones Initiative Report
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