California Governor Jerry Brown signed a “Kill Switch” bill into law, making his the first state to require that anti-theft features for smartphones sold there to be enabled by default. The feature allows smartphone owners to remotely lock down their phones if stolen, rendering them inoperable and useless to and unsellable by thieves.
Minnesota has a similar law, but it’s an “opt-in” one: it simply required that smartphones sold there need to present users the chance to enable the kill switch feature during the initial setup process.
Smartphones (not tablets or other mobile devices) sold in California after July 1, 2015 will be required to have an enabled kill switch feature. Anyone who sells a non-compliant smartphone will face a penalty ranging from $500 to $2500.
The law is meant to combat increasing smartphone theft. In the US, one in 10 smartphone owners has had one stolen, and in 2013, more than 3 million Americans — double the number in 2012 — has lost a smartphone to theft. The problem is a particularly big one in California; mobile device theft accounted for 65% of robberies in San Francisco and 75% in nearby Oakland.
The two biggest smartphone vendors in the world, Samsung and Apple, already have kill switch features built into their devices:
- Samsung has Reactivation Lock, which when activated by the phone’s owner, makes the phone unusable, even after a factory reset.
- Apple has Activation Lock, which requires the user’s Apple ID/password credentials in order to disable location tracking or reactivate a locked phone.
Google and Microsoft have announced that they’ll build in kill switch features into upcoming revisions of their mobile operating systems.