Apple to add kill switches to iPhones
Apple said Monday it will equip its new iPhones with a kill switch that will render the devices useless if stolen - making the Cupertino firm the first manufacturer to act on a chorus of law enforcement calls to discourage robbers who are targeting smartphones.
The switch will enable a user to deactivate a stolen cell phone via a website. It will prevent a thief from erasing the owners data from the phone, even if the SIM card - the integrated circuit that includes an owners password and other identifying information - is removed, Apple said.
Once a user throws the kill switch - or activation lock, as Apple calls it - only someone with the registered username and password will be able to unlock it or turn off a homing feature that allows the owner to find it via GPS.
Apple will add kill switches to all its mobile devices, not just iPhones.
We think this is going to be a really powerful theft deterrent, Craig Federighi, Apples senior vice president of software engineering, said at a software designers conference Monday in San Francisco.Official initiative
The feature will be part of the latest version of operating software due out this fall, Apple said.
The company made the announcement three days before San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón holds a planned meeting in New York with that states attorney general and cell-phone company officials to discuss ways of discouraging mobile-device robberies.
Gascón and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr have been vocal in calling on manufacturers to add kill switches to make cell phones less attractive to thieves. Suhr said Monday that smartphones account for about 25 percent of items stolen in robberies in the city and that all forms of mobile devices - including tablets - account for 60 percent of thefts.
He noted that in February, a 6-year-old boy was robbed of his mothers iPhone.
This is huge - huge for law enforcement, huge for the public, Suhr said of Apples action.
In the decade since adopting a shutdown system in Australia in 2004, that country has cut its cell-phone robbery rate by 25 percent, Suhr said.
We should see an immediate impact on robberies in San Francisco as soon as this becomes common on all iPhones, he said.Apple picking
Gascón said in a statement that he hopes other manufacturers follow Apples move. He and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are scheduled to meet Thursday with officials from Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft to talk about combatting smartphone crimes, known as Apple picking.
Apple picking is a huge epidemic in the United States, Gascón and Schneiderman said in a joint statement Monday. We are appreciative of the gesture made by Apple to address smart-phone theft.
The prosecutors said, however, that they would reserve judgment on the Apple kill-switch feature until they understand its actual functionality.Industry reluctance
John Sileo, an expert on mobile phone privacy, said cell-phone makers have hesitated to add kill switches despite the possible benefit to owners.
They dont want to shut down anything that potentially scares away a user, whether legitimate or stolen, Sileo said. They dont want the device to go dead.
He noted that every theft means that a new person is using the phone and has to sign up for service.
The more thefts, he said, the better for them because they want to sell more service.
They get a new customer, the illegitimate and legitimate customer - that is great for them, but who suffers? Ultimately we all pay for that. The best thing is to get a darn lock on there and let us turn those things into bricks.
Jaxon Van Derbeken is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com