Love it or hate it, that kill switch is reducing phone theft

Despite wide-ranging criticism last year, the state of California passed a law requiring phones to have a remote “kill switch” by July 2015 and the approach, as well as similar legislation in other areas, seems to be cutting down on the number of stolen handsets.

Reuters noted on Wednesday that reported iPhone theft was down by 40 percent in San Francisco between September 2013 and 2014, as [company]Apple[/company] added such a switch at the beginning of that time period. New York saw 25 percent fewer iPhones reported stolen during that same year while London had a 50 decrease in iPhone thefts. The switch deters thieves because it allows the owner to remotely wipe and disable the handset, making the resale value plummet.

The information from Reuters is specific to the iPhone but surely has some relevance to other phones as well. Samsung, for example, added a similar feature to its [company]Google[/company] Android phones last year, letting you track the location of your phone or lock it until you enter your Samsung account and password. Windows Phones have no such kill switch yet, but I’d be surprised if Microsoft omitted the feature in Windows 10 for handsets, expected to launch later this year.

So what’s not to like about the switch if it can help reduce the chances of your phone — and your personal data — from being stolen? The two largest carriers in the U.S., [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Verizon[/company], have previously voiced concerns that the switch could be used in reverse by thieves or hackers, possibly seeking ransoms for locked phones. And of course, carriers often sell insurance for stolen handsets, so the kill switch could be eating into that business.

Like it or not, the kill switch is probably here to stay, which is good news for phone owners.

Do our phones need a kill switch?

A political fight is brewing between local politicians and the mobile carriers about whether every phone should include a kill switch. The wrong people are having the argument.