Using Tech to Curb Smartphone Theft

Like all coveted consumer items, smartphones are a prime target for theft. As the devices have become increasingly common, so have reports of muggings and break-ins involving the gadgets. According to Consumer Reports, more than 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen in 2012. Meanwhile, smartphone thefts accounted for more than 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco and 75 percent of thefts in the neighboring city of Oakland.

The uptick in gadget-related larceny has led to an outcry among advocates for antitheft technology. After all, if a smartphone can perform an almost unlimited amount of functions, why shouldn’t it be able to shut down if it falls into the wrong hands? So far device makers have been reluctant to install any “kill switch” technology for fear that it could be used as a tool for harassment by hackers. However, they soon may not have a choice on the matter as more lawmakers seek to pass legislation involving antitheft technology.

For instance, representatives in California’s legislature recently introduced a bill that would require all smartphones and tablets to be protected by antitheft measures. But given the industry’s wariness about kill switches, any legislation that gets passed will not likely set specific standards. Instead, telecomm companies will be able to decide what kind of antitheft tech is most appropriate for their products. While this could involve kill switches, manufacturers will still be free to determine their own security methods. Apple recently unveiled its own sort of antitheft tech in a recent iPhone system update. The feature allows users to engage an “activation lock” that prevents thieves from easily accessing their information. While many insiders have praised Apple’s foresight, others argue that consumers shouldn’t have to opt-in for such protection.

 

Questions:

  1. Should legislation be passed requiring smartphones to have deactivation devices?
  1. Is it best to make deactivation devices part of all smartphones or an opt-in item?

 

Source: Zusha Elinson, “New Antitheft Push in California for Mobile Devices,” The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2014. Photo by Penny Lam.

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