Android and Windows to get ‘kill switch’

Google and Microsoft will add a “kill-switch” feature to their Android and Windows phone operating systems.

The feature is a method of making a handset completely useless if it is stolen, rendering a theft pointless.

Authorities have been urging tech firms to take steps to help curb phone theft and argued that a kill-switch feature can help resolve the problem.

Apple and Samsung, two of the biggest phone makers, offer a similar feature on some of their devices.

The move by Google and Microsoft means that kill switches will now be a part of the three most popular phone operating systems in the world.

Growing problem

Smartphone theft has become a big problem across the world. According to a report by US authorities:

Some 3.1 million mobile devices were stolen in the US in 2013, nearly double the number of devices stolen in 2012

One in three Europeans experienced the theft or loss of a mobile device in 2013

In South Korea mobile device theft increased five-fold between 2009 and 2012

In Colombia criminals stole over one million devices in 2013

In an attempt to tackle the issue, policymakers have launched an initiative called Secure our Smartphones.

As part of it, they have urged technology firms to take steps to make it less attractive for robbers to steal mobile devices.

“An activated kill switch converts an easy-to-sell, high-value multimedia device into a jumble of plastic and glass, drastically reducing its street value,” the report by New York Attorney General said.

Explainer: How a kill switch works

A “hard” kill switch would render a stolen device permanently unusable and is favoured by legislators who want to give stolen devices the “value of a paperweight”

A “soft” kill switch only make a phone unusable to “an unauthorised user”

Some argue that the only way to permanently disable a phone is to physically damage it

Experts worry that hackers could find a way to hijack a kill signal and turn off phones

If a phone is turned off or put into aeroplane mode, it might not receive the kill signal at all, warn experts

Read More