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Google and Microsoft to include smartphone ‘kill switch’ in next operating system

Cellphone LGNew York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday that, for the first time, Google and Microsoft will incorporate a “kill switch” in the next version of their operating systems.

Google’s system, Android, runs on more than half of all smartphones used in the United States. Microsoft’s operating system is on all Nokia smartphones.

The announcement means that a kill switch will be incorporated into the three leading smartphone operating systems — Android, iOS, and Windows Phone – which make up 97 percent of smartphones in the United States. 

The announcement is part of a new report issued by the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials, and consumer advocates.

The report offers crime statistics showing that after Apple added a kill switch robberies and grand larcenies involving iPhones dropped. At the same time, violent crimes against people carrying phones without a kill switch surged.

“The commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety and the statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches,” said Schneiderman.

The report, “Secure Our Smartphone Initiative: One Year Later,” includes data from police departments in New York City, San Francisco, and London.

In New York City, theft of iPhones fell after the release of Apple’s Activation Lock on Sept. 18, 2013. In the first five months of 2014, robberies and grand larcenies involving Apple products dropped 19 percent and 29 percent, respectively, compared to the same time period in 2013.

Robberies and grand larcenies from a person involving a Samsung smartphone, which didn’t have a kill switch during much of this time, increased by more than 40 percent. Samsung introduced a kill switch solution in April of 2014 on their Verizon Wireless devices.

Statistics from San Francisco and London show similar outcomes. In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38 percent while robberies of Samsung devices increased by 12 percent. In London, Apple thefts declined by 24 percent while Samsung thefts increased by 3 percent.

Schneiderman said more work needs to be done on kill switches. Since the majority of smartphones don’t have them, criminals now target devices not likely to have a kill switch.

Because kill switches are only available on an opt-in basis, not enough consumers are signing-up for them, he said.

S.O.S.’s wants kill switches to be a standard opt-out function on all phones.

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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