Figures from the New York Attorney General show a sharp fall in iPhone thefts correlating with Apple introducing a “kill switch” feature. The news comes as both Microsoft and Google say they’ll put such a feature into their operating systems.
Several manufacturers and carriers had already committed to releasing or supporting software to remotely disable stolen phones. This week Microsoft and Google said they’ll put such tools directly into the Windows Phone and Android systems by next summer.
Announcing the agreement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released figures comparing crime stats for the first five months of 2014 with the same period in 2013. Apple launched “Activation Lock” last September, between the two periods in question.
The figures show a 19 percent drop in iPhone robberies (taken with the use or threat of violence) and a 29 percent drop in iPhones taken during “grand larceny in person” (defined in New York as $1,000 or more). That compares with a 10% and 18% drop respectively in overall cases of the crimes.
Schneiderman also noted a 41 percent rise in robberies and 40 percent rise in grand larceny cases involving Samsung phones during that time. Samsung only introduced a killswitch in April.
According to Scheiderman, there were similar patterns elsewhere. He noted stats in San Francisco showed a 38 percent drop in iPhone robberies in the six months after Activation Lock debuted compared with the six months beforehand. The same timescale in London shows a 24 percent drop. In both cases, Samsung thefts rose slightly.
The Microsoft and Google news could spell an end to the threat of legislation on the issue. If Google introduces a killswitch in a way that means all Android phones have to support the feature, then between iOS, Android and Windows Phone, the vast majority of handsets will be covered. That could mean current proposals in the California legislature and in Congress to mandate killswitches on a state or national basis would become largely redundant.
It should be noted that last time we covered this issue, the majority of Geeks Are Sexy readers who commented on the story were at best skeptical about the idea of a mandatory killswitch, many citing the risk that it could be abused and triggered by government or security agencies.