Outsmarting Thieves: Cutting Theft with a Smartphone Kill Switch  

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By Norma Garcia on Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Smartphone thefts are out of control.  According to San Francisco’s District Attorney, such theft is a major problem in big cities—over fifty percent of the robberies committed in San Francisco, for example, are of mobile devices.

How to remedy this? If you want to outsmart a thief, you have to think like one.  How do you remove the temptation for a brazen thief to grab your shiny new smartphone, or slip it out of your bag as your ride the bus?  The key is letting someone whose phone is lost or stolen make the phone useless to a thief.

Thanks to a new bill just signed into law in California, the power to outsmart a cell phone thief is now in the hands of smartphone owners.  Now, every smartphone sold in California after July 1, 2015 must be equipped with a kill switch, which allows the owner to make the phone useless if it is lost or stolen. California’s new law requires that the kill switch be already turned on when the phone is sold.  This feature makes this new law a first-in-the nation victory for consumers.

Elisa Odabashian, who lobbied for the California bill as director of the West Coast office and state programs for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, told the Sacramento Bee “We hope it will be a market changer.” 

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon sums it up, “Seldom can a public safety crisis be addressed by a technological solution, but today wireless consumers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Shouldn’t consumers everywhere have the same protections?  We think so. Based upon Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of adult Internet users, Consumer Reports projected that 1.6 million American were victims of smartphone theft in 2012.  That’s why we would like to see other states follow the example set by California.  Every smartphone user ought to enjoy the same high level of protection from thieves when it comes to using their smartphone, regardless of what state they are in.  And if smartphone sellers have to retool for California, they might as well do the same for consumers throughout the U.S.

Besides, today’s smartphone users fill their phones with personal information, such as account numbers and passwords, Social Security numbers, and other information attractive to thieves, often without protecting their phones with a pass code.  So losing a smart phone isn’t like just loosing an address book.  This kind of loss exposes the smartphone owner to the possible theft of important personal information, including financial information and access to financial accounts.

For all these reasons, Consumers Union is glad Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 962 and we applaud Senator Mark Leno for authoring this very important public safety and consumer protection bill that will help millions.

What do you think about California’s new law?  Do you have a story to tell about smartphone theft or loss and how a kill switch could help you? Tell us in the Comments section below.

 

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