Kill switches finally mandated

by Keelia Moeller

This year, an operational “kill switch” will become a standard feature on cellular devices from leading cellular companies such as Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft. All of these companies voluntarily agreed to incorporate this technology into their devices. After July 2015, all smartphones manufactured by participating companies in the United States must have this feature.

The kill switch plan, entitled “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment,” was announced on April 15, 2014. Minnesota was one of the first states to respond, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation supporting the plan exactly one month after the announcement.

The kill switch is a free feature designed to deter thieves. It allows cellphone owners to erase all contacts, photos and emails. Additionally, this feature automatically locks the phone so people cannot use it without a password. The deleted data are retrievable only if the owner recovers the lost or stolen device.

Up until now, many cellular carriers have resisted the development of the kill switch. Many believe that this resistance spawns from the desire to maintain revenue made from replacing lost or stolen devices.

It’s easy to blame cellular companies for a lost or stolen device. If customers are unable to track down their phones, they often believe it is because the carrier did not do enough to help them find it.

The kill switch measure is an excellent step that many cellular carriers are taking. It will come in handy more times than we’d like to admit. However, it’s also on us to treat these devices more carefully — because, in the wrong hands, they may be a key to hacking, identity theft or worse.