Is a Kill Switch the Solution for Mobile Phone Theft?

Brandon Dimmel's picture

California is about to implement a "kill switch" requirement for all smartphones sold there. The plan requires vendors sell smartphones equipped with a feature that allows owners to remotely disable the device if it is lost or stolen.

California's kill-switch bill was approved by the state's assembly yesterday morning. Now, experts believe it's only a matter of time before Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, making it law.

Kill-Switch Software Wipes Personal Data, Locks Phone

The bill mandates that smartphones contain software capable of wiping all personal data and locking a device if it is lost or stolen. This software must be resistant to all forms of hacking intended to unlock the phone (usually by replacing the mobile operating system), thereby making it usable for others.

It's believed that, should the bill become law (as is expected to happen), all phones manufactured after July 1, 2015 and sold in the state would have to include the kill-switch software. (Source:

Those who stand behind the bill say it will have a serious effect on smartphone theft, which not only exposes personal data but can also lead to violent confrontations. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), between 30 and 40 per cent of all urban robberies in the U.S. involve the theft of mobile devices, such as smartphones.

Other reports show that the number of smartphone thefts has increased steadily in major U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. (Source:

"We are on the verge of implementing regulations that will have tremendous benefits to public safety," noted George Gascon, San Francisco District Attorney. "We are on the eve of securing wireless consumers everywhere from the violent threat of theft." (Source:

Big Three Mobile OS Makers Developing Kill-Switch Software

The California kill-switch bill is expected to have a significant impact on the mobile industry. Right now only Apple has developed such software, though both Google and Microsoft -- makers of the Android and Windows Phone mobile operating systems -- have promised to build their own kill-switch programs.

California is actually the second U.S. state to pass this type of law. The first state to introduce a kill-switch law was Minnesota, which did so back in May 2014. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think a kill-switch law can help prevent smartphone theft? Do you think other states should follow California and Minnesota in passing this kind of legislation? Have you ever had a smartphone lost or stolen? If so, what was your experience?

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ronbh's picture

It would be a nice feature but I don't think it should be required by legislation.
I use a Blackberry, if I enter the password incorrectly 10 times in a row the phone will wipe itself.
I keep regular backups of the phone on my laptop.
I wouldn't think much else is needed.

DavidFB's picture

Interesting they have to make it a law. You'd think the cell phone makers would have looked at it when noticing the problems theft was causing. Perhaps the CA rule will cause them to just include it more broadly. The question then becomes will customers activate it and use it?

I run ESET's AV software on my cell. It includes a GPS locator, remote photo taking, locking, and can erase personal data when its apparent it won't be recoverable.

I've also found it useful because it warns me about questionable app permissions. Not to mention AV itself. The basic version is free.

Rather than pushing a single thing on the phones, perhaps its time for more widespread use of phone security apps.

DavidFB's picture

That routine may serve you but your phone is still a theft magnet. Some phones are stolen violently. They're introducing this to cut the value of a stolen phone and thus the theft.

It's also worth noting that a knowledgeable thief would not try to hack your password and thus your data would not be wiped when its hacked. Apps that can wipe your data remotely are thus useful.

ronbh's picture


I have a blackberry - lets face it my phone is not a theft magnet :)

That being said I do not disagree that the ability to remotely wipe data is not useful but I do not think it should be legislated.

swreynolds's picture

The main idea of the Kill switch is to make it impossible (or too expensive) to resell a stolen phone. User's private data is not interesting to most thieves.

russoule's picture

I have a cell that I rarely use as I just don't like the smallness of it. However, a legislated "kill switch" would mean that MY cellphone would also have such an app on it. Since I very often forget my password or forget to backup my cell (not much info there except the games and contacts), wouldn't this "kill switch" be rather problematic for me?

Or perhaps my son/daughter "borrows" the phone and the "kill switch" goes into effect.
Then what happens to my data? GONE! Or even more likely, my ex-spouse or ex-lover or some other person who is angry at me knows the "kill switch" access (I assume that would be via the internet) and activates it just to be an ahole.

There seems to be too much of government deciding what the people require instead of the people telling the manufacturers what they require/want/are willing to pay for. All forms of government should get the heck out of the business of telling producers WHAT to produce and get back to punishing those who do wrong to others.