The move follows the news that there had been a dramatic drop in theft of Apple iPhones and iPads after the September 2013 introduction of iOS 7, which included a kill-switch function that allows stolen devices to be remotely locked and deleted so they become useless.
In New York, iPhone theft was down 19 percent in the first five months of this year, which is almost double the 10 percent drop in overall robberies seen in the city. Over the same period, thefts of Samsung devices rose by over 40 percent.
In San Francisco, robberies of iPhones were 38 percent lower in the six months after the iOS 7 introduction versus the six months before, while in London thefts over the same period were down by 24 percent. In both cities, robberies of Samsung devices increased.
Of course the drop could have been because the later versions of the iPhone and iPad was not as interesting to thieves as rival products, but the cops are blaming the kill switch.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been leading a push to get smartphone vendors and telecom carriers to include kill switches in their products as a way to curb phone theft.
While Apple liked the idea, the other carriers and phone makers dragged their feet. What seems to have moved them are several bills that mandate kill switches working their way through state legislatures and the US Congress.
The bills demand a function that would let a phone owner remotely delete and disable a phone if stolen. The function could be disabled by consumers before a theft takes place if desired, but crucially new handsets would be supplied with it switched on by default.
Gascon and Schneiderman believe that if most phones had a kill switch, thefts would drop because the probability of a stolen phone remaining useful and thus having value would greatly diminish.
The two said the data being released on Thursday appears to “validate the kill switch as an effective part of a multi-layered approach to combatting smartphone crimes”. Although it’s worth remembering that crime is a complex subject and other factors could have contributed to the fall in Apple-related thefts or the rise in those of Samsung phones.