New data reveal thefts down 40 percent in London, 22 percent in San Francisco and 16 percent in New York City
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, London Mayor Boris Johnson and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have released new crime data showing smartphone thefts and robberies declined dramatically in New York City, London and San Francisco since the wireless industry began to implement "kill switches" on their devices. Schneiderman, Johnson and Gascón co-chair the "Secure Our Smartphones" initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and consumer advocates that was formed in June of 2013 to find solutions to the violent crime wave of smartphone thefts.
The S.O.S. called on the smartphone industry to adopt kill switch technology as a theft deterrent. The crime data released demonstrates the strategy of putting pressure on private industry to implement existing technology that removes incentives to steal a smartphone is working to reduce crime and protect wireless consumers.
After S.O.S. called on the industry to adopt a kill switch, Apple introduced "Activation Lock" in September 2013. While initially an opt-in solution, there has been a steady downward trend in thefts targeting smartphones since the implementation of this technology. From January 2013 to December 2014, New York City's Police Department recorded a 16 percent overall drop in cell phone robberies, including a 25 percent drop in iPhone robberies - the first phone to adopt a kill switch. During that same time period, San Francisco recorded a 27 percent overall drop in cell phone robberies, and a 40 percent decrease in iPhone robberies. London has recorded a similar decline in smartphone crime. Comparing the 12 months prior to October 2013 with the 12 months prior to October 2014, smartphone thefts from persons dropped 40 percent and personal robberies of smartphones (crimes involving violence or the threat of violence) declined 38 percent in the year after kill switches were introduced. In London, the monthly average for the number of phones stolen has halved since September 2013 - resulting in 20,000 fewer victims annually.
"After meeting with families who had lost loved ones to violent robberies targeting their smartphones, we decided to raise the alarm about smartphone theft and called on the industry to adopt kill switch technology," Schneiderman said. "The huge drops in smartphone theft that have occurred since then are evidence that our strategy is working - fewer families are suffering, and people are safer in our cities and across the world."
Johnson said, "We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago. In London, we convened the major phone manufacturers and urged them to do more to protect their own customers. And the advent of a kill switch in late 2013, in conjunction with the enforcement efforts of the Metropolitan Police, has been key to this turnaround. The private sector has a responsibility to prevent crime and I am delighted that, through the S.O.S. initiative, global cities like London, New York and San Francisco are coming together to help solve our shared public safety challenges."
"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," Gascón said. "As more manufacturers implement this technology to comply with California law, I expect to see further reductions in the number of robberies. It just goes to show that thoughtful regulation that protects consumers is not at odds with innovation. We will end this public safety crisis through prevention, by removing the incentive to commit these violent crimes."
New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said, "The significant decrease in smartphone thefts since the implementation of kill-switch technology is no coincidence. Restricting the marketability of stolen cell phones and electronic devices has a direct correlation to a reduction of associated crimes and violence, as evidenced in London, San Francisco and New York. We applaud the cooperation between the wireless industry and law enforcement in this important crime-deterring initiative."
The Secure Our Smartphones initiative attributes the decline to the deterrent effect of a kill switch. The technology allows a user to deactivate a stolen phone, making it unusable even if the memory is wiped and operating system is reinstalled. This makes stolen phones worthless to resell on the secondary market, taking away the economic incentive to steal them. If the rightful owner of a stolen phone recovers it, they can reactivate it. Additionally, however, the technology ensures less tech-savvy consumers don't have to take any actions to ensure their device is worthless on the secondary market, thereby sustaining the deterrence value. Thieves who wipe a stolen device will still need the original user credentials to reactive the device on a new wireless network - credentials they will not have.
Apple's kill switch was released Sept. 18, 2013, as part of the iOS 7 software update, and was made standard in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which were released in September. Samsung released a kill switch-type solution in April on the Galaxy S5. In June, Google and Microsoft announced they would incorporate a kill switch in to the next version of their respective operating systems. Google released a version of Android with a kill switch in October. Windows is expected to release its kill switch-enabled operating system this year.
The three dominant smartphone operating systems - Google's Android, Apple's iOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone - currently encompass 97 percent of smartphones in the U.S.
In August, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law requiring all smartphones sold in the Golden State after July 1, 2015, to include this technology on an opt-out basis. The industry has said it will not roll out a California-specific phone. It has indicated all smartphones sold in the U.S. will meet the requirements established by the California law.
Organizers said the crime data demonstrates the importance of immediately implementing life-saving technology for all smartphones on an opt-out basis. However, while the default setting on iOS 8 is for the kill switch to be active, all other kill switches are currently available only on an opt-in basis. The S.O.S. is calling for kill switches to be made a standard opt-out function on all smartphones and other mobile devices. Current solutions ensure many devices have the solutions, but thieves can't tell which devices have the technology enabled and which do not. As a result, until all smartphones have the technology enabled by default, all wireless consumers remain potential targets for thieves.