Microsoft, Google Chime in With Apple on Smartphone Kill Switch

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-06-23 Print this article Print

After all, Apple announced the iOS7 version of a kill switch a year before either Google or Microsoft. Were they simply waiting for reports to surface, as they have with iPhone thefts, saying that thefts dropped in the first year by as much as 40 percent? Or was there another reason?

A more likely reason is that the phone makers and carriers were afraid of government action. In the fall of 2013, 31 state attorneys general sent letters to four cell phone makers demanding a kill switch. More of a concern to both carriers and manufacturers is a bill that's coming up for a vote in the California State Assembly that would mandate a kill switch for all phones sold in the state. Most likely, cell phone makers are looking at the prospect of those 31 AGs drafting 31 different laws in their respective states, all requiring a kill switch, and all implemented in a different way.

I can only imagine the kind of nightmares such a legal situation might cause for a smartphone product manager. The only thing that these companies could hope for is some sort of federal pre-emption, no sign of which is currently on the horizon. This kind of scenario is likely what led the CTIA to propose the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment in April.

Unfortunately, because both Microsoft and Google phones are largely updated by their respective carriers, the Kill Switch impact will be relatively small. Statistics released by Google show that only about 14 percent of Android phones are running the latest version of the OS. It's unlikely that a larger percentage will be able to run the next version with the kill switch.

The obvious solution is for both Microsoft and Google to release stand-alone apps that mirror the capability of the new app so that users can run it on their existing smartphones, even if they can't get the latest version of the OS. While implementation of such an app will be less than it would be if it was part of the platform, at least it would provide the option.

But will that option ever exist? After all, it's in the carriers' and manufacturers' interests not to do any more than necessary to keep smartphone theft under control because it helps them sell more phones and insurance plans. The fact that those companies are gambling with their customers' safety, and sometimes their very lives, seems not to be overly important to them.



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