The Smartphone Kill Switches Are Coming

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 16 2014 2:32 PM

The Smartphone Kill Switches Are Coming

light_switch

Photo from Shutterstock.

Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

Lily Hay Newman Lily Hay Newman

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

The Wireless Association (CTIA) has created a voluntary commitment that manufacturers can join to make kill switches an industry standard. That way, if someone swipes your phone, you can "kill" it remotely, making it inoperable for whoever has it. And if your device is recovered, you can use a special password or other type of ID to bring it back to life. Otherwise, the device is useless.

The chief executive of CTIA, Steve Largent, said in a statement, “We appreciate the commitment made by these companies. ... This flexibility provides consumers with access to the best features and apps that fit their unique needs while protecting their smartphones and the valuable information they contain.”

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The voluntary initiative is a good step. But there’s always a but, isn’t there? San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, and New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, both feel that the agreement isn't enough, since the kill switches won't necessarily be on as a default. They said in statement, “While CTIA’s decision to respond to our call for action by announcing a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones is a welcome step forward, it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft.”

And others, like California Sen. Mark Leno, who has introduced a universal kill-switch bill for California, are also skeptical. He called the effort, "incremental yet inadequate."

Clearly, when it comes to kill switches, lawmakers don't have a take-what-you-can-get attitude.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.