In an effort to combat skyrocketing smartphone thefts around the world, Samsung and LG are considering installing "kill switches" in their phones as early as next year.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) are in discussions with South Korea's Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning about introducing the function to new smartphones and tablets to deter theft. It's intended to discourage theft by allowing the manufacturer and carrier to lock the device when the user reports it stolen, even if the SIM card is replaced or the firmware is hacked.
South Korea has been experiencing a spike in stolen smartphones. The WSJ cites data from the country's National Police Agency in which the number of smartphone thefts rose 457 percent from 2009 to 2012. The Korea Customs Service also blocked attempts to smuggle 10 times as many smartphones out of the country last year as it did in 2010, according to the article.
Unfortunately, South Korea's increasing crime rates are not unusual. In 2012, mobile phone robberies accounted for one in every three thefts in the US, almost half of those in San Francisco and 40 percent in New York City. In Los Angeles, smartphone robberies jumped 27 percent from the year before. The New York City police department even has a special smartphone squad that coordinates with Apple to attempt to track down stolen iPhones.
Action on the part of Samsung and LG will come as welcome news to these beleaguered cities, whose leaders have been calling for manufacturers to include security mechanisms to help deter thieves. Earlier this year, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón formed the Secure Our Smartphones (SOS, what else?) initiative.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, joined the coalition this month, according to a press release. Although London's overall crime rate has been falling, offenses such as pickpocketing and bag snatching have increased by 15 percent this year, and 10,000 smartphones are stolen every month.
SOS is convinced that the market for stolen phones is out of the control of municipal law enforcement. It believes that the industry must develop technological solutions to eliminate the secondary market for stolen mobile devices, and has been pressuring manufacturers to do so.
Pantech, another South Korean device manufacturer, has already beaten Samsung and LG to the punch, quietly rolling out kill switch functionality in its Vega No. 6 smartphone in February. The feature is dubbed "V-protection" but so far has seen little use, according to the WSJ. The newest version of the Vega, released in Korea last week, also includes a fingerprint scanner, which may bring more visibility to the phone's capabilities.
Do you think it is the manufacturers' responsibility to make stolen phones harder to resell? Would you want a kill switch on the phones you manage, or on your personal device? Let us know in the comments.