The use of smartphones in the United States has skyrocketed over the past decade, and with that growth has come an increase in functionality. In addition to voice, text, and emailing, smartphone use has grown to include social media and even online business and banking. As convenient as these devices have made our lives, this convenience comes with inherent risk: theft. Having a device with access to this much sensitive information stolen can be incredibly damaging.
Cognizant of this, California lawmakers passed a law that went into effect on July 1 requiring all smartphones sold in the state to come with an opt-out button, or “kill-switch.” In the event that a phone is lost or presumed stolen, users can activate this switch from a computer by using the account their smartphone is linked to. Activation of the switch will wipe the phone clean, removing all stored account information, contacts, and passwords, and render the phone completely unusable.
Though the piece of legislation is California-specific, Forbes forecasts that this will lead to a nationwide change. Smartphone manufacturers have already announced that they will not be manufacturing special brands of smartphones with this feature to be sold in California or Minnesota (the other state with a law of this nature), and thus will simply include it in all new smartphones.
Apple and Android have already created features like these as of last September, but left them as optional or at a cost to users. With this new law on the books, all smartphones will have this feature integrated at no extra cost.
The inclusion of these “kill-switches” is already having a profound impact. A Consumer Reports study reported that smartphone thefts dropped from 3.1 million in 2013 to 2.1 million in 2014, a reduction by almost a third. Many project that this number will continue to drop as this anti-theft measure becomes more standard across the country.
While there are some worries about these new features, mainly people losing their phone and then wiping it, only to find a useless brick a few days later, experts believe that they will be effective in preventing smartphone theft and the complications that can come with it. The law coming into effect on July 1 means that essentially all smartphones sold in the United States from here on out will have “kill-switches” standard, including the highly anticipated iPhone 6S.
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