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iPhone Kill Switch: Thefts Drop In NYC, SF

Activation locks make stolen smartphones useless to thieves, resulting in a significant drop in thefts.
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Smartphone thefts are down dramatically thanks to kill switches that let owners remotely disable their devices. Locked or disabled devices can't be fenced, and that means the streets are safer for the smartphone-owning public.

While the news is good, the wireless industry has a long way to go in terms of protecting consumers. That said, enterprise IT doesn't need to wait. IT professionals should already have policies in place to protect their devices and data. Every employee should be using passwords, and every device that has a "find/lock my phone" feature should have it enabled.

iPhone thefts have plummeted 40% in San Francisco, according to Reuters. Similarly, thefts are down 25% in New York City and down a whopping 50% in London. These are the results 12 months after Apple added a kill switch to the iPhone in September 2013 with the release of iOS 7.

"We have made real progress in tackling the smartphone theft epidemic that was affecting many major cities just two years ago," London Mayor Boris Johnson said in the Reuters report.

A year ago, data from the New York Police Department showed thieves were stealing Apple-branded products in record numbers. During 2013, there were 8,465 iPhones and iPods snatched from people on subways, buses, and on the streets in New York City. That amounted to 23 thefts per day. The NYPD said Apple products accounted for 18% of all grand larcenies across the city.

Lawmakers in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere fretted over the thefts and lobbied to protect consumers. They were concerned not only about the loss of property -- smartphones are darned expensive -- but also about the injuries and even deaths that resulted from the act of stealing.

Apple added the tool to iOS voluntarily, but laws will require kill switches on smartphones later this year. Google added similar security measures to Android 5.0 Lollipop, and Microsoft plans to add a kill switch to Windows Phone. Apple's kill switch is on by default, but Google's isn't. Some observers worry that smartphone owners won't know to activate the feature.

[ Want to know more about Microsoft's low-priced smartphone offerings? Read Microsoft Lumia 435, 532 Budget Phones Target Android. ]

"The wireless industry continues to roll out sophisticated new features, but preventing their own customers from being the target of a violent crime is the coolest technology they can bring to market," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon in the Reuters report. California's laws requiring the kill switch haven't reached the books yet, but will be the strongest such legislation in the country.

The FCC thinks there's plenty of work yet to be done. It reviewed data from a wide range of law enforcement agencies and believes there are between 1 million and 3 million smartphone thefts each year. The FBI said smartphone thefts account for 10% of all thefts on a yearly basis. Wireless network operators are supposed to be maintaining a database of stolen devices, but the FCC doesn't think it has been put to effective use yet.

Have you ever had a smartphone stolen? Are you currently using the kill switch capabilities on your mobile device? What kind of training has your IT department provided to mobile users about making the most of these new capabilities? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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