Smartphone industry worldwide has been witnessing an explosive growth for last few years, and so is smartphone larceny. The number of smartphone users are estimated to reach 2 billion by 2015 and will further grow to 5.13 billion by 2017. In 2013, these device thefts have accounted for 50% of all robberies in San Francisco and 20% of all such crimes in New York City. These stolen cases of smartphone have registered a 40% increase from last year. Such an astounding growth has led the legislators to enact a law to deter the growing epidemic of device thefts.
On 14th May, 2014 Minnesota became the first state in the U.S. to enact a law that requires all mobile phones sold after July, 2015 should be equipped with an anti-theft software. But why Minnesota to start with ?
“Cell phone theft is a major concern here in Minnesota and around the country,” says Sen. Katie Sieben, who authored the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement. He continues “This legislation, which is the first of its kind in the country, will help reduce the likelihood that people will be robbed of their smart phones.”
Keeping in mind that the smartphones are mostly stolen device for their resale value, the law has prohibited their resale for cash. The payment for the re-sold phone can only be done in the form of cheque or EFT or store credits. All the details of payment, model, date and time should be recorded and safe-guarded for atleast 3 years.
iPhone is the most sought-after product in the mugger world with 8,465 Apple products stolen in 2013. The company introduced apps like activation lock and Find My iPhone but users have failed to found these apps useful once the phone is stolen. According to William Duckworth, associate professor of statistics, data science, and analytics at Creighton University, Americans shell out US$580 million replacing their stolen phones every year and US$4.8 billion on device insurance. This massive number and need for customer satisfaction has driven the smartphone giants to have a kill switch option to keep the device as well as data safe.
Kill Switch feature enables users to remotely wipe data and safeguard their phone. It permanently disables the mobile phone or the device. Pantech, a South Korean mobile manufacturer was the first vendor to introduce this feature into mobile phones. It is estimated that kill-switch feature will save users US$2.6 billion per year. Last month the proposal to introduce Kill switch faced a blow when wireless carrier industry in the U.S. suspected that the new software will create a window for hackers. The issue, however, got resolved after CTIA – representative of telecom companies – made a commitment to make antitheft software standard for all device makers and carriers. The commitment between the CTIA-The Wireless Association and US lawmakers is composed in two parts. Firstly, it addresses device manufactures and operating system developers to provide the anti-theft measure at no extra cost. Secondly, the carriers should not prevent users from downloading this app.
Enacting the law has not been an easy task. Kill-switch faced severe opposition from the wireless carrier industry. Their argument being that this software leaves the phone vulnerable to hacking. Although, this is a valid point, the inner story and facts suggest something else. Mobile carriers make enormous profit through their insurance policy and replaced handsets. For each premium device sold on the black market, several hundreds dollars can be gained. The underground smartphone market is worth an estimated US$30 billion. Carriers made an estimated US$8 billion in 2013 from theft and loss insurance. Imposing a permanent kill switch is bound to cut their profit, hence they remain fiercely opposed to the move.
Kill-switch is still an optional feature in the phone. Many users are not aware of it and might not turn it on rendering it useless. Moreover, if the phone is on airplane mode or switched off, the data cannot be wiped. Despite, it’s still a viable solution to all mobile theft. Mobile vendors and carriers are expecting to witness countrywide roll soon.