Service of Kill Switches for Mobile Phones

March 6th, 2014

Categories: Kill switches on smartphones, Phones, Technology, Theft

Smartphone in subway

There was a time when you could hardly walk down a city street without hearing the crunch of ground glass under your feet because someone had smashed a window to steal a car radio and/or tape deck. It got so bad that people would remove and bring their radio with them either shopping or to dinner and post “No radio in car” signs.

Car window smashedNow car radios work only in the car in which they are installed. Result: No more such thefts. The windfall from all those replacement purchases lasted for quite a while but all affected industries willingly gave up that source of income.

According to Edgar Sandoval and Tina Moore in the New York Daily News, “In New York City alone, 20% of robbers went after smartphones, a 40% increase from a year ago, authorities said. The crime has become known as ‘Apple picking.’”

stealing a smartphoneTo cut down if not eliminate smartphone theft that has led to death in some cases, a Bronx Congressman is asking for Federal legislation to require manufacturers to participate in a similar way by installing technology that stops a [stolen] mobile phone from working.

They continued “The leaders [Bronx Congressman José Serrano, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton] said the phone companies could either make the move on their own or the law will be enforced by the FCC, Serrano said.”

Sandoval and Moore quoted Bratton who said “corporate greed is to blame for not having the kill switch in the phones already in existence. Manufacturers came through when the city saw a wave of car robberies in the 1990s and Bratton would like to see them same happen with phones, he said.”

Think there’s any downside to smartphone manufacturers installing a kill switch? What are the advantages for the industry to do it without Federal intervention? Does a manufacturer’s business plan include sales gains for replacements as a result of theft? Has your phone been stolen?

Stealing smartphone 2


6 Responses to “Service of Kill Switches for Mobile Phones”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Yes, it’s corporate greed, because stolen phones mean new phone sales for the cell companies.

    For similar reasons, they have been reluctant to make cell phones inoperable in a moving car. This leads to driver distraction, which is now attributed as a major factor in some 5,000 traffic deaths every year. The technology exists, but phone users have to make extra efforts or spend extra money to help ensure their loved ones or kids don’t talk on the phone or text while behind the wheel. One app (which I do work for) is LifeSaver, which is less than $5 (a one-time charge) and prevents a phone from making calls or texts when the car is moving more than 5 mph.

    Adding to the danger of distraction in the car is the proliferation of “hands-free” devices in cars — from phones to GPS to satellite radio. Those things are big add-ons and big moneymakers for the auto manufacturers, even as they’ve been proven to cause driver distraction.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This is beginning to sound like the tobacco industry when executives swore that their tests showed that smoking had no ill effects on a person’s health.

    Good luck to your client but for the good of pedestrians, passengers and other drivers everywhere, we’d all be better off if manufacturers acted in a responsible fashion and protected us from one another.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Thieves are similar to fashionistas. It’s now the style to steal smartphones, so that’s what they do. The Bronx congressman is right, and automatic disabling of a stolen phone rocks. The basic problem remains, thieves being who they are: What costly gimmick is next on their wish list?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If it takes as long for smartphone manufacturers to step up to the plate as it did the tobacco industry–which needed a nudge from government–and even the car radio folks, the thieves will have a bit of time to enjoy their current source of ill gotten income before they need to think of the next treasure trove.

  5. Simon Carr Said:

    Whatever we may think of ex-Mayor Giuliani now, I’ll always remember him gratefully for having gotten rid of those awful squeegee men who gouged a few dollars out of their victims by dirtying their windshields at stop lights.

    Stealing telephones seems to me to be about the same kind of aggravating crime– a little more serious, but not enough to put someone in jail for thirty days.

    You are right. The technology must be there to make catching the thieves easy, and I’ve a suggestion for a fitting punishment for their crime.

    Sentence anyone caught with a stolen telephone to 72 hours of non-stop, sleep deprived listening to recordings of the kind of telephonic drivel one typically overhears riding a New York City bus.
    I bet that they will never steal another telephone and perhaps never even use one again.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I see your point but there are a few differences:

    I don’t recall if a squeegee person killed a victim and there have been deaths related to stolen phones.

    Also the dollar or quarter given the squeegee people was a far cry from the $300 more or less that it costs to replace a smartphone, not to speak of the lost photos, database and other information in the phone.

    Last, at least there was a car window between you and the squeegee people and if you planned it right, you could avoid them. When someone grabs something from you, it’s scary and abusive.

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