Mobile // Mobile Devices
News
2/8/2014
09:06 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail

California Kill Switch Bill Targets Phone Thieves

California bill directs mobile hardware makers to include a way to disable stolen communications devices. Will privacy concerns be addressed?

Photo courtesy of West Midlands Police (Flickr).

Comment  | 
Print  | 
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
IrwinBusk
33%
67%
IrwinBusk,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 9:22:56 AM
Dumb.
A stupid law, to protect stupid people, from thier stupid mistakes.   "kill switch"  capability is readily available to those who want or need it.
Levon Tostig
100%
0%
Levon Tostig,
User Rank: Strategist
2/8/2014 | 10:20:46 AM
Re: Dumb.
Oh, the potential for government abuse is staggering on this.  

Imagine what this will be like when cell phones are linked to the computers in cars, for more than just making calls (as promised by Apple and several automakers).  The hand of Government will be able to reach in and take over through Sync (or whatever system the car is using), or misdirect your turn-by-turn directions to go where they want you to go.

If you don't think this is possible, you're entirely wrong.  This is possible *now* with a few $$$ of untracable off-the-shelf parts, and a cell version is coming really soon: http://www.engadget.com/2014/02/06/your-car-s-computer-system-can-be-compromised-with-off-the-shelf/

If it isn't the government doing this, why not anyone with a moderate skill set?  Gosh, what little remotely-sent flash of signal down a cold wire could tell a car's computer to report a false engine problem, just to get a regular visit to a dealership?

All good intentions, foolish Californians...

 
Levon Tostig
100%
0%
Levon Tostig,
User Rank: Strategist
2/8/2014 | 10:20:49 AM
Re: Dumb.
Oh, the potential for government abuse is staggering on this.  

Imagine what this will be like when cell phones are linked to the computers in cars, for more than just making calls (as promised by Apple and several automakers).  The hand of Government will be able to reach in and take over through Sync (or whatever system the car is using), or misdirect your turn-by-turn directions to go where they want you to go.

If you don't think this is possible, you're entirely wrong.  This is possible *now* with a few $$$ of untracable off-the-shelf parts, and a cell version is coming really soon: http://www.engadget.com/2014/02/06/your-car-s-computer-system-can-be-compromised-with-off-the-shelf/

If it isn't the government doing this, why not anyone with a moderate skill set?  Gosh, what little remotely-sent flash of signal down a cold wire could tell a car's computer to report a false engine problem, just to get a regular visit to a dealership?

All good intentions, foolish Californians...

 
mak63
50%
50%
mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2014 | 3:36:24 PM
Re: Dumb.
@IrwinBusk

A stupid law, to protect stupid people, from thier stupid mistakes."kill switch" capability is readily available to those who want or need it.

A little harsh, aren't you? Moreover, your statement is too broad to be of much value.
I'm curious about the kill switch that is already available. Could you expand on that?

 

 
Donald Sauter
50%
50%
Donald Sauter,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 12:03:25 PM
a step in the right direction...
Hey, this is a step in the right direction!  Now what we need is a little explosive charge in each cell phone so if you're within 20 feet, say, of somebody squawking on one in public and being rude and annoying you and everybody else around (sorry about the string of redundancies), you press the little transmitter in your pocket and... ker-zappp!  Time to buy a new one!  Tough love!  Be thankful you weren't blown away by some guy mad as heck and not gonna take it anymore! 

 Donald Sauter
CLAFOUNTAIN100
0%
100%
CLAFOUNTAIN100,
User Rank: Strategist
2/8/2014 | 2:09:39 PM
Re: a step in the right direction...
Kill Switch legislation is for people who can't afford a replacement phone.  

When items like this are lost, or "stolen" (usually "Left Behind" is the most accurate words),  it's usually because the owner makes a conscientious decision.  They also don't personally believe the phone or device is has value to purchase insurance.

Point being, often, people (especially women) say their phone was "stolen" so they can be a victim of circumstance, instead of being empowered to make a decision.

As things are more connected by the internet, it seems that personal responsibility is the most important fleeting skill of the younger generation.   Just remember, one of Steve Jobs' finest developers left an iPhone at a bar, probably to pick up chicks.  That phone probably wasn't worth much to that Apple developer that left it behind!

In any situation, whist continuing on the existing path, Apple will most likely become the next Nortel within 5-10 years;  but unlike Nortel, Apple's business model is based on egos, and token trophies. (the younger generation loves this..!)

With Apple's $180B in cash, I think a lot of people are paying Apple too much for a brand name.  Margins like this are absolutely obscene; and it doesn't take much thought to figure out the price is set too high, and consumers are getting unreasonably screwed by Apple's monopoly on these types of patents.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/8/2014 | 5:33:09 PM
Re: a step in the right direction...
"Point being, often, people (especially women) say their phone was 'stolen' so they can be a victim of circumstance, instead of being empowered to make a decision."

I'm not so sure about that. It sounds awfully generalized and anecdotal. The article cites some compelling crime statistics. Living in San Francisco, where crime stories involving mobile devices are pretty common, I don't doubt that legitimate thefts result in billions of dollars in losses. Perhaps "lost" devices inflate figures a bit, and perhaps a kill switch isn't the answer, but more and more people are wandering around densely populated areas with no sense of their surroundings, totally absorbed in a tweet or text or whatever. It's not surprising that street robberies, generally a crime of opportunity, have ballooned.
anon6297107716
50%
50%
anon6297107716,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 3:06:18 PM
Re: a step in the right direction...
To deter thieves it would be better to have a small built-in explosive charge that could be activated by the victim (text "86thief" to the phone) and set off when the perp tries to use the stolen phone.
Adam_
100%
0%
Adam_,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 2:24:49 PM
Bad Idea
What would happen:


Hackers, government, etc. would kill the phones of legitimate users

Thieves would just canabalize your phone anyways -- someones phone display is cracked, they swap out the display with one that they stole.

Once again, the path to he|| is paved with good intentions.
Michael Endler
50%
50%
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
2/8/2014 | 5:36:35 PM
Re: Bad Idea
Yeah, this seems difficult to safely implement. I need to see a lot more to be convinced this isn't yet another good intention primed to run amok.
Li Tan
50%
50%
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 4:03:03 AM
Re: Bad Idea
The initial idea seems to be great but the implementation details are of concern - how such kind of functionality can be done in real life is a question mark. How realiable it will be? How can we locate the stolen phone properly? Will the functionality be mis-used somehow?
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/8/2014 | 2:26:39 PM
I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
Certainly, we want such phones to be available, but we should avoid unnecessary barriers to entry (the mobile phone market needs more competition, not less).  If the California Legislature wants to dictate standards, a more important one would be that the owner of the phone be accorded ultimate control of the device with the absolute right to use it in any manner he sees fit, as long as it's legal; to use his device on any network that will have him; and to make whatever modifications to it he thinks proper as long as it does't interfere with the ability of others to use their own devices, the ID remains unaltered, and no attempt is made to steal services for which one hasn't paid (but a carrier who depends on control of the devices on his network to maintain security is an idiot).

 
RobPreston
100%
0%
RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2014 | 9:23:59 AM
Re: I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
Why is this a regulatory issue and not a market issue? If consumers really want a kill swtich, some company in the industry will provide it to those who want it, at a cost to the consumer and profit to the provider. It needn't be a forced option.  
Ariella
50%
50%
Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 10:18:53 AM
Re: I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
@Rob intersting argument. The invisile hand will assure that whatever feature consumers demand will be included without government intervention.  
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 6:49:47 PM
Re: I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
I think we tend to think of the Invisible Hand a bit too narrowly.  In a truly free market, it will rarely be necessary for governments to intervene, but many markets are oligopolistic (ie. not really free), making collusion and manipulation a lot easier than they are in the highly competitive markets Adam Smith properly preferred (that and it's rarely the case that consumers and workers have all of the data they need to make informed decisions, but Smith's model assumes perfect infornation).

But if lots of people are unhappy with how the market is functioning, it creates pressure for governments to intervene (especially in a democracy) and I think that too is part of the Invisible Hand.  Hence, I think politicians and regulators  should work to make markets as free and competitive as they reasonably can be (it would end up reducing the work they have to do), undertanding that judicious intervention may sometimes be necessary to bring that about and that large employers and vendors have a built in advantage over workers and consumers in that there are a lot more of the latter than the former and the former are a lot richer (general relativity has definite applications to both economics and political science).

 
Ariella
50%
50%
Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 7:04:26 PM
Re: I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
@jries921, yes, it's not altogether simple. What you said made me think of the GMO food labeling controversy. Last year a state law calling for it failed to pass in California, as it did earlier in Washington state. However, it did pass in Connecticut at the end of last year, as it did in Maine in January. For both theose states, the measure is contingent on it passing in additional states in the NE.  However, even while it fails to pass (for whatever pressures are at work) a number of major food companies, particularly cereal makers like General Mills, Post, and Kellogs, are publicizing their own GMO-free products, bowing to public pressure even without legal mandates.
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 7:24:37 PM
Re: I'm not at all sure I'm in favor of this
The Invisible hand does work, though sometimes slowly, and it's much more general than "pro-business" types are usually willing to admit.  But I think the important thing to remember is that *every* participant in the market is part of it, giving us all some responsibility for how well it works (people might want to consider how their buying and selling habits affect the market as a whole instead of assuming that the right things will happen automatically).

 
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 8:28:20 PM
The contingency is an error
If requiring GMO products to be labeled as such is good policy (and I would certainly be in favor of it as long it's not too hard to determine whether it is or isn't), then state legislatures should do it, regardless of whether other states follow (if it works well, other states probably will follow).  Thus, contingency clauses constitute "putting the cart before the horse", in a very real sense.

 
unitedtruth
50%
50%
unitedtruth,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 2:46:17 PM
Don't fall for this propaganda
I'm in the wireless industry, this is being pushed by the big cell phone providers to help remove the pre paid wireless market. The fact is, stolen phones aren't a problem. And what constitutes as a "stolen" phone who decides? These guys want to sell televisions, and control what channel you tune to unless they receive their ROI in full! And if the customer can't pay, they will brick your phone and still charge you full price for an asset they just bricked. It screams anti trust suit.the Justice department needs to get involved and make the rules fair.
ObadiahC218
50%
50%
ObadiahC218,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 2:49:14 PM
Kill Switch could be a very good idea
One very good thing that could come out of the addition of a 'kill switch' - phones could be set to automatically cease operation in the proximity of a car's driver seat, making it impossible to text or call while driving (or operating a train, or airliner for that matter). Preventing distracted driving "accidents" would be a fantastic use for this technology.
Kristin Burnham
50%
50%
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2014 | 3:46:04 PM
Re: Kill Switch could be a very good idea
But what about the instances in which you're involved in an accident? While I understand your arguement for it doing some good, I'm still not sure this would be a good move. Be wary of your surroundings and resist operating your phone while driving. As a reader above mentioned, a "kill switch" is protecting people from their mistakes.
YosarianT073
50%
50%
YosarianT073,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 3:13:40 PM
Bad BAD idea
Do what I did, spam Mark Leno's inbox with how you feel about this Orwellian BS. Just put the address for his office lol it passes the filter. 50% of robberies? LOL that's because when you call and tell them your phone was stolen (because "I lost it" "isn't covered") it gets reported as a robbery. Good freaking lord people are dumb.
JohnM818
50%
50%
JohnM818,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 3:50:21 PM
Don't trade Real security for "phoney" security
We're talking about a centrally programmable means to disable private communications not to mention the backdoor such technology may create to listen even if bulk collection is thwarted.
 
I think it's terribly naive to think technology won't become the means to stifle unwanted political speech (it is already that).
This programming will require a means to makea a low level change to the device's hardware layer, and that will require a secure means to ensure the only person who can authorize the change is the device owner. But in technology today there's no truly secure means to do anything. Any such technology that you try to set up will potentially be used for nefarious purposes, possibly on a grand scale and possibly be misused by goivernment authorities as well. I pray that this bill is stopped as it may open a flood gate to security breeaches. You're better off to lose the device than to open that door.  
 
Sam_Debater
IW Pick
100%
0%
Sam_Debater,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2014 | 5:14:37 PM
Innocent Victims
Just yesterday, I read an account of a man whose Twitter account was hijacked by someone who managed to gain control over the man's domain name and email. None of the services would help him. In order to regain control of his domain name, he had to give up his Twitter name. What is to ensure that only the rightful owner of a cell phone could disable it? How do you know who is the rightful owner? How secure is this system? 
Petar Zivovic
50%
50%
Petar Zivovic,
User Rank: Strategist
2/10/2014 | 1:32:20 PM
Law needs to be thought through
Lots of good commentary here.

I have several thoughts on this.

First, in reply to the user who stated below, "...phones could be set to automatically cease operation in the proximity of a car's driver seat, making it impossible to text or call while driving..." Ok, despite best intentions, an accident occurs anyway for an unrelated reason. I go to call 911 and/or family for help...oh wait, I CAN'T. My phone's disabled. For this reason, in my opinion, this is a well-intentioned idea that isn't a good one when set to an absolute like that.

Second, in reply to the article, where the third paragraph starts: "The bill stipulates that the physical action necessary to disable the kill switch may only be taken by the rightful owner of the device or a person designated by the owner..." The problem with this also well-intentioned approach is, if the technology exists in the phone so the owner can disable it, chances are the thieves will figure out how to work that function to disable it. This puts us right back where we started. That alone makes this law likely an exercise in futility, in addition to the points made later in the article.

Finally, I'm with Mr. Preston on this. Businesses can make an offering and people will pay if they really want it. In general, consumers want more choice, not more mandatory features shoved down their throat (and the associated costs).

I do pay for tracking software to find my phone in case it's lost/stolen. A PIN is required to unlock it. Encryption software protects my sensitive data. If a thief is savvy enough to wipe my phone and/or strip it for spare parts before I can remote find/kill it, so be it. But if all I did is misplace my phone, I can at least find it again. Case in point: I wish this feature was available on my wife's older phone last week. She dropped it in the snow just outside the garage but didn't realize it was missing until she had gone to half a dozen places. This feature would have eliminated all places to search except home, narrowing the search tremendously, and we probably would have found it within the hour instead of half a day later.

Based on the above, the proposed law is not only unnecessary, it creates a burden that will help few (if any) and harm many. Therefore it would not make a good law & should not be passed.
Kristin Burnham
50%
50%
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2014 | 8:12:33 PM
Re: Law needs to be thought through
You make a good point: As attached as people are to their phones these days, you'd likely recognize your device is gone before a culprit (if it was stolen) had an opportunity to strip it for parts. Tracking software is a worthwhile investment, and technology that's available today, too.
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
2/10/2014 | 8:22:47 PM
Re: Law needs to be thought through
But customers should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want the capability and how much they're willing to pay for it.  The bigger priority is a more competitive market and we can only get there by *lowering* barriers to entry instead of raising them.

 
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/10/2014 | 5:40:22 PM
Target is phone thieves but lots of collateral damage
It'a a pain to log in to your phone each time you want to use it. But it accomplishes much of the purpose of a kill switch, without the switch. I'll stick with my log-in password and skip lobbyingfor a kill switch.
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and community news at InformationWeek.com.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.