Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

Give our phones a kill switch, please (w/video)

Americans spend a lot of money on cellphones, and I'm not just talking about upgrading to the latest iPhone. According to a study at Creighton University, Americans spend about $4.8 billion per year on cellphone insurance, and $580 million per year to buy new phones when theirs get stolen.

Now, if cellphones came with a "kill switch," users could render their devices useless remotely after they were stolen, and the Creighton study estimates that consumers could save about $2.6 billion a year. The study, conducted by statistician and data scientist William Duckworth, was based on a February survey of 1,200 smartphone users.

Legislation that would require manufacturers to include kill switches in handsets shipped to the United States has been proposed in the Senate and House of Representatives. But cellphone carriers are reluctant to add kill switches, possibly because they would lose out on the money consumers spend to replace stolen phones.

Yet there is a groundswell of support from consumers. Duckworth's survey showed that 99 percent of respondents thought cell carriers should make kill switches an option on phones. Ninety-three percent felt that this service should be free, and 83 percent said that such a feature would reduce theft.

"I view losing a credit card as a similar frame of reference,'' Duckworth told IT World. "If it is stolen or lost, I can call the credit card company and get it canceled and they can issue a new one. There is safety there. My smartphone has tons of information and accounts in there, so the idea that I could call and say 'kill it' is a very reasonable thing."

Currently CTIA-The Wireless Association has a database that prevents phones that are reported stolen from being reactivated. But the database only covers certain countries, so stolen phones still work if they're taken somewhere else.

Kill switches are already starting to proliferate through things like Apple's Activation Lock feature in iOS 7.

If billions of dollars are going down the drain trying to protect stolen phones, we basically have nothing to lose at this point by trying out some kill switches. — Slate.com

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