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Lawmakers Push for 'Kill Switch' to Deter Smartphone Theft A new coalition presses Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others to make devices unusable if stolen.

By Jason Fell

Chances are, you're carrying a mobile phone on you right now. You might even be reading this very post on your smartphone. Chances are also increasingly high that your smartphone will, at some point, be stolen. One out of every three robberies in the U.S. involve the theft of a smartphone, according to research by Consumer Reports. Now, two prominent lawmakers have created a coalition of police, political officials and consumer advocates to deter the theft of smartphones.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón have launched the "Secure Our Smartphones" initiative. The goal is to encourage smartphone makers to develop technologies, such as a "kill switch," that make mobile devices unusable if stolen. The idea is if smartphones can't be used again, thieves will be less inclined to steal and try to re-sell them.

New York City saw a 40 percent increase in mobile thefts in 2012, according to a recent Time magazine article. And in San Francisco, approximately 50 percent of all robberies last year involved some type of mobile communications device, a statement announcing the initiative says.

Related: Congress to Google: Glass Privacy Issues Must Be Taken Seriously

"The cell phone industry cannot ignore that smartphone theft is a crime that can be fixed with a technological solution," says Gascón in the statement.

The coalition will aim to accomplish the following tasks, among others:

  • Analyze patterns, causes and trends behind the growing and increasingly violent problem of device theft.
  • Work with device manufacturers to make a kill switch, or equally effective technology that would enable stolen devices to be permanently disabled, a standard feature of their products.
  • Raise public and shareholder awareness about industry practices in this area.

Currently, smartphone and tablet users are able to encrypt data and lock their devices with security passwords, but devices haven't included built-in features to permanently shut them down if lost or stolen. Paid apps and services like Lookout Mobile Security can provide tools the help locate missing devices and remote wipe and lock functions.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference this week in San Francisco, Apple said it will equip new iPhones and its other mobile devices with a kill switch that allows users go online and deactivate the devices if they are lost or stolen. Also, Samsung is working with a company called Absolute Software to provide a kill switch -- among other security features -- on the Samsung Galaxy devices.

Related: Tech Startups That Are Strengthening Real-World Security

Jason Fell

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Managing Editor

Jason Fell is the former managing editor of Entrepreneur.com.

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