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'Kill Switch' to Be Standard on Smartphones by 2015

Worried about losing your phone? Smartphone manufacturers and American cell carriers have agreed to make "kill switches" standard on all smartphones manufactured for sale in the United States after July 2015.

Huge names in mobile tech -- Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft -- have all signed on to a new "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" aimed at beefing up anti-theft features on mobile devices. "Kill switches" would allow owners of compliant phones to remotely "erase contacts, photos, email and other information" as well as lock the device, reports CNN.

How will this "kill switch" program change your smartphone?

Some 'Kill Switches' Already on Market

Since smartphones have proliferated in the last decade, phone thefts are leaving consumers more and more vulnerable. A 90s-era flip phone contained very little sensitive data compared to a modern iPhone, and smartphone thefts in major metro areas have added up to millions of dollars in losses.

Because of this increased danger from smartphone thefts, some smartphones already include "kill switch"-type security features. The Find My iPhone app included with all current iOS devices has allowed theft victims to track down their stolen Apple devices and sometimes even catch the perp. With the latest version of iOS, Apple users can also remotely wipe or lock their phones, making it harder for thieves to sell the devices.

Android devices have a similar feature, allowing users to locate, lock, and even erase a phone or tablet remotely. While these features are fantastic security tools, they are not an industry standard on all smartphones sold today.

Push for Legislation Prompts Voluntary Program

Because there was no guarantee that your phone would have a "kill switch," legislators had been pushing to make them mandatory. In response to lawmakers, mobile manufacturers and cell service providers agreed to a voluntary commitment to make "kill switches" a reality in every phone by mid-2015.

In a release Tuesday, the participants in the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment" promised all compliant smartphones will offer:

  • Remote wiping of a user's data if a phone is lost or stolen;
  • Rending a smartphone inoperable without a PIN or password (except for 911 functionality);
  • Preventing reactivation without authorization, even with a factory reset; and
  • Reversing the "locked" state when the authorized user recovers the device.

This voluntary agreement is not a law, but it should provide that most smartphones in the U.S. market will have these features by July 2015.

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