Authorities are looking to handset manufacturers to implement smartphone “kill switches” that are designed to make the devices unattractive to thieves and recoverable for owners. But given their track record, there is no guarantee that smartphone makers will implement the right technology for the job.
“We need the industry to take this issue seriously and come up with a technical solution that can squash the illegal smartphone market that is fueling this crime,” London mayor Boris Johnson said last week.
Smartphone crime is a public safety issue, with police in many cities reporting a related rise in crime: London police say they see 10,000 smartphone thefts per month. In 2012, half of all robberies in San Francisco targeted a smartphone, while in New York City last year, the figure was 40%, according to statistics supplied by “Secure Our Smartphones,” a program launched earlier this year by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, and recently joined by London.
All told, Consumer Reports estimates that 1.6 million Americans were victims of phone theft last year.
High-end smartphones are expensive to buy and lucrative to resell. Some models reportedly fetch up to $1,200 each in Hong Kong. Many phones ultimately end up in Africa and Asia, where they’re wiped and rolled out on new cellular networks, according to law enforcement experts. Even if the devices are still running tracking software, you can kiss them goodbye.