Kill Switches – the technology to remotely render stolen smartphones unusable – have recently received attention for their potential to protect smartphone owners. According to an FCC report, cell phone thefts constitute 30-40% of all thefts in major U.S. cities. Senators in California and in Congress have introduced bills that would make installing the Kill Switch mandatory for smartphone manufacturers, in an effort to curb this explosion of crime.
Opponents of the Kill Switch express concern that the feature will create more problems than it will solve. A report by the CTIA maintains that the ability to activate the Kill Switch could not be secure, because so many phone service providers would have that power. CTIA, a telecom industry group, suggests that a widespread Kill Switch cyber attack on federal employees could have severe consequences.
But Dr. Duckworth, a statistician at Creighton University, believes that the Kill Switch could save American consumers $2.6 billions dollars per year – based on estimates of annual spending on stolen phones. He recently published a study analyzing public opinion toward the Kill Switch. The report finds, “99% of smartphone owners feel wireless carriers should give all consumers the option to disable a cell phone if it is stolen.”
The desire to curb crime – and probably a desire for fairness – bolsters the Senators’ push for making the Kill Switch mandatory. However, for many techies, its implications for cyber insecurity make the technology a hard sell.