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California passes new smartphone anti-theft law

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The law prescribes a technique known as a “kill switch” for devices manufactured after July 2015. This enables stolen smartphones to be deactivated remotely and made unusable for a thief. The Californian smartphone market is significant enough that it is likely to induce all providers to integrate compatible theft protection.

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law requiring a “kill switch” for smartphones so that they can be remotely deactivated in the event of theft. All smartphones manufactured after July 2015 must have theft protection that makes them unusable for a thief – and it must be activated by default.

The law passed in California only applies to this US state. However, the California smartphone market is significant enough that it is expected to induce all smartphone and mobile operating system vendors to integrate compatible theft protection so that they can continue to sell their devices there.

The law was strongly advocated by George Gascón, the attorney general of San Francisco because smartphones are not only very often stolen on the street in large cities, but the attacks are often associated with violence. According to Gascón, California cell phone owners will “be able to breathe a sigh of relief” when “stealing a smartphone is no longer worth the hassle”.

According to a report by Time, every other robbery in San Francisco involved a cell phone. According to Consumer Reports, smartphones played a role in 30 to 40 percent of all robbery crimes in the United States – and in 2012, 1.6 million Americans were victims of their smartphones.

Elected officials, investigative authorities and consumer advocates have long been pushing for countermeasures with the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS) initiative that was founded last year. With their campaign against “ Apple Picking,” they responded to reports that 113 smartphones are stolen or lost every minute in the USA. iPhones were apparently particularly affected, with many robberies being violent and some even resulting in death. The members of the initiative accused the smartphone manufacturers of ultimately profiting from the massive thefts. They urged them to use a kill switch to ensure that stolen devices lose their resale value.

The mobile communications industry association CTIA has so far relied on a voluntary and non-binding commitment by its members to integrate this type of theft protection in devices manufactured after July 2015. Apple, AT&T, GoogleHTCMicrosoftSamsung, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, among others, have committed to this.

With iOS 7, Apple has already expanded the theft protection integrated into mobile devices. The “Find my iPhone” function has since offered an activation lock. The Apple solution is so effective that last year the New York police asked iPhone owners to install iOS 7 as soon as possible. For the next Android version that is currently simply referred to as L, Android chief Sundar Pichai has a corresponding anti-theft announced. Microsoft is also planning a kill switch technology for future versions of Windows Phone.

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