Smartphone thefts have significantly fallen off in three major cities with the implementation of kill switches, which allow phone owners to remotely deactivate their phone, making a stolen device utterly worthless, except as a paperweight.
Reports of stolen smartphones fell 22 percent in San Francisco and 16 percent in New York, USA Today reports. IPhone thefts have dropped even more: 40 percent in San Francisco and 25 percent in New York. In London, smartphone thefts have plunged by 40 percent.
“We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago,” said London Mayor Boris Johnson.
According to Re/code, smartphone thefts had been an all-too-common occurrence.
According to the National Consumers League, handheld devices were stolen from 1.6 million Americans in 2012. In California, smartphone theft accounts for more than half of all crimes in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities.
A law mandating kill switches hasn’t gone into effect yet in California, but some phone manufacturers went ahead and installed software-based kill switches on their phones, Fortune reports.
“The wireless industry continues to roll out sophisticated new features, but preventing their own customers from being the target of a violent crime is the coolest technology they can bring to market,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who helped lobby smartphone companies to implement kill switches.
Many smartphone companies were reluctant to implement kill switches. “CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents wireless companies, said that a kill switch had serious risks, including vulnerability to hackers who could disable others’ phones,” USA Today said.
Apple was the first phone manufacturer to install a kill switch, in September 2013, USA Today said. The switch, also called an “activation lock” is now standard on its iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung and Google have also implemented kill switches. Microsoft is expected to release a new operating system that includes a kill switch sometime this year.
Some smartphones require users to opt in to use the kill switch. Fortune said Johnson, Gascon and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are urging phone manufacturers to make the kill switch active as a default, so all users are protected.
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If you do find yourself in the market for a new phone, whether because of theft or an aching need to upgrade, watch this video for tips on how to save money: