When it comes to the kind of cybercrime faced by the average consumer a great amount of emphasis is placed on personal loss. Smartphones are major investments, often only made affordable by long-term commitments to phone plans. Credit card and bank fraud need to be insured against and even in the best case scenario cost the victims time. Social media and email accounts need to be changed and identities need to be reassured.
This focus on the victim leads to a great number of technological innovations in terms of security, but it leaves out half of the equation: crime is a business.
Smartphones are stolen because they are worth money, resold to the unwitting public after being reset to factory conditions. If an iPhone were to depreciate significantly enough in value after being compromised so that the money made in resale would not cover the time or risk, no one would steal it.
Following this logic, Google announced yesterday that the next version of Android OS will come with a “Kill Switch” function that can be activated to deter the theft of smartphones that use it. Described during a press statement today as a “factory reset protection solution.”
There are two factors behind the addition of the Kill Switch function. The first is a mounting demand from public officials for a theft deterrent in order to curb a highly gadget-swiping driven crime boom. The second is the proven success of such measures.
Last September, Apple premiered a kill switch feature to curb the rise of “Apple Picking” (the slang term for pickpocketing an iPhone) and a noticeable change occurred. According to the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative, Apple product theft dropped 19 percent in New York, 38 percent in San Francisco and 24 percent in London, England.
Kill switch features are currently opt-in, a detail that has officials raising a disapproving eyebrow. Possibly the best, most succinct way of illustrating the issue of theft deterrence as an option comes from United States Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was quoted by Bloomberg in an article breaking the news, saying, “We’re never going to get to the end of incentives to steal unless the thieves know they’re stealing a brick.”