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Consumer Reports and other groups call for a 'kill switch' to fight phone theft

Consumer Reports and other groups call for a ‘kill switch’ to fight phone theft

With smart-phone theft reaching epidemic proportions, a coalition of more than 50 law enforcement agencies, scholars, consumer advocates—including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports—and others is demanding that smart phone makers add a ‘kill switch’ (a mechanism that can shut down a device remotely) to phones in order to decrease their attractiveness to thieves.

“The stakes here are very high, and we intend to pursue this with every tool in our toolbox,” said New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who initiated the Secure Our Smartphone coalition along with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon today at a press conference.

Both the theft and loss of smart phones are adding up to big numbers for consumers. In addition to the more than 1.6 million phones stolen last year, Consumer Reports projects that 1.2 million phones were permanently lost during the same period and that their owners were exposed to unauthorized access to their bank accounts, e-mail accounts, Facebook accounts, and other personal accounts. Counting owners of lost phones, the total number of consumers who would benefit from having a kill switch in their phone would be 2.8 million.


Find out how to guard your privacy and stay safe on the Web with our guide to online security.

Smart-phone theft often results in violence, Gascon added. “We need to go beyond the ‘wow’ and the ‘cool’ factor and we need to talk about public safety,” he said.

Schneiderman, Gascon, and others met with smart-phone manufacturers today, including Google, Apple, and Samsung. The upshot of that meeting: The group asked the companies to “commit to develop effective solutions to this national crime wave and install them on all new products within one year.”

Apple announced earlier this week that the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 7, would include technology that would lock a phone down if a thief tries to deactivate Find My iPhone. Schneiderman said he would “reserve judgment” on whether this would be strong enough to deter theft, while Gascon said “Apple has been very vague as to what the system will do.”

“The industry has a moral and a social obligation to fix this problem,” Gascon said.

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