Smartphone users know that when they buy a new phone, it’s likely to come pre-loaded with dozens of applications — some free and helpful, others just a profit center for the seller, carrier or both. One application that would be quite useful — a so-called “kill switch” that would allow stolen cellphones to be quickly and easily disabled by their rightful owners — has, unfortunately, yet to appear as standard equipment, despite the best efforts of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the cooperation of the world’s biggest cellphone maker, Samsung.
In response to the growing number of cellphone thefts ($30 billion worth nationally last year, many of them accompanied by violence), Schneiderman and the district attorney in San Francisco (where half of all robberies involve cellphones) persuaded Samsung earlier this year to install “kill switch” apps on their phones. But wireless carriers (e.g. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon) vetoed the step. Why is unclear: The carriers say they feared the phones could be disabled by hackers; consumer advocates say such an app would hinder carriers’ efforts to sell highly profitable insurance that offers victims of lost or stolen phones a free replacement.
Giving the carriers the benefit of the doubt, we would think that any “kill switch” could be made reversible; thus if someone’s phone were accidentally disabled for any reason, it could be revived by the manufacturer or carrier.
Cops have the wherewithal to track GPS-equipped cellphones but refuse to, so manufacturers and/or carriers need to step into the void. Unless brazen cellphone thieves get the message that they’re wasting their time because the phones they steal can be rendered worthless in a matter of minutes, the crime will continue.