Smartphone thefts drop dramatically in SF since kill switch initiative 

click to enlarge San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón speaks during a press conference on Thursday, June 13, 2013, in New York at the launch of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative aimed at encouraging the cell phone industry to adopt technology to deter cellphone theft. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman can be seen second from right. - AP FILE PHOTO/BEBETO MATTHEWS
  • AP file photo/Bebeto Matthews
  • San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón speaks during a press conference on Thursday, June 13, 2013, in New York at the launch of the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative aimed at encouraging the cell phone industry to adopt technology to deter cellphone theft. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman can be seen second from right.

Smartphone thefts in San Francisco dropped by a large percentage in a two-year period following manufacturers’ introduction of a safety function called a “kill switch,” according to data released Wednesday by the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative.

Among the iPhone alone, which was the first phone to feature an opt-in kill switch after manufacturer Apple adopted Activation Lock in September 2013, there was a 40 percent decrease in thefts in San Francisco from January 2013 to December 2014.

Secure Our Smartphones was formed in June 2013 as an international partnership between law enforcement entities with the aim of persuading the smartphone manufacturing industry to adopt the kill switch technology as a permanent fixture. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, along with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, were fixtures in launching the initiative.

“The wireless industry continues to roll out sophisticated new features, but preventing their own customers from being the target of a violent crime is the coolest technology they can bring to market,” Gascón said in a statement released Wednesday. “As more manufacturers implement this technology to comply with California law, I expect to see further reductions in the number of robberies. It just goes to show that thoughtful regulation that protects consumers is not at odds with innovation. We will end this public safety crisis through prevention, by removing the incentive to commit these violent crimes.”

The technology essentially makes smartphones valueless after the phone's owner deactivates the device if it is stolen or lost. But if the phone is recovered, the owner can reactivate it.

Apple was the first to introduce the technology. It was part of an operating system update released in September 2013, but the phone owner had to activate it. However, it comes standard with the current iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, released this past September.

Samsung was next in line, releasing its own kill switch-type solution in April on the Galaxy S5. Google adopted the technology in a new version of its Android operating system in October, and Windows is expected to do the same sometime this year. Apple, Android and Windows phones comprise 97 percent of all smartphones in the U.S., according to Secure Our Smartphones.

In August, California became the first state to enact a law requiring that phones sold in the state come with kill switch technology on an opt-out basis starting July 1, 2015.

And, according to Secure Our Smartphones, manufacturers have said they will not make California-specific phones and instead will meet the requirements of the state law for all phones sold in the U.S.

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