The Kill Bill Trend

As More “Kill Switch” Laws Are Proposed, a PR Disaster Looms


The statistics are worrying: in the US, 10 percent of smartphone users have had their devices stolen, in some cases in a violent “grab and dash”, close to 40 percent of thefts in the country involve a smartphone, and the number of incidents nearly tripled in 2013 to 3.1 million. In some cities, authorities say that 60 percent of reported crimes involve the theft of a smartphone. And all this comes when smartphones are being positioned as the wallet of the future and the keys to our home.

The California Senate recently passed a smartphone kill-switch bill that requires new smartphones sold after 1 July 2015 to have a remote “kill switch” feature turned on by default. Several other US states as well as the US Congress are working on similar legislation. And the trend is going global: South Korea, for example, has also passed a similar requirement for smartphones. The hope is that thieves will quickly learn that smartphone crime is a waste of time.

There is no technology challenge here, but rather a battle between opt-in and opt-out. Pre-installed software and third-party apps already exist to accomplish remote device bricking, but users have to know enough to enable the feature. While new laws in the US would require the security feature to be on by default, in an attempt to intercept further requirements, the CTIA wireless trade body is pushing for a voluntary opt-in approach, backed by most handset manufacturers, platform suppliers and all major US operators. But the CTIA’s lobbying is leading to some bad press for industry players that at least appear to favour profits over personal security.

Given recent media attention on the growing number of violent smartphone thefts, mobile players would be wise to actively support global crime-prevention measures and so build consumer trust. As smartphone makers and operators eye entering domains such as mobile payments and the smart home, they should prepare to make a killing.