Often one of the leaders in many areas of consumer protection, Californian legislators are proposing a bill which would address the growing problem of the theft of mobile devices. With the ease of acquiring a small, valuable object, cellphones and tablets are increasing targeted by thieves looking to make a quick score.
Over the past year or so, both New York and San Fransisco have seen efforts to implement kill switches on mobile devices. This would allow the owner of a stolen device to basically make it useless to the thief, with some type of remote lock-out. However, so far cellphone makers and carriers have both resisted to a point, with some exceptions. Apple’s iOS7 features an Activation Lock, which allows the owner to lockout a stolen phone, and also reactivate it if it’s recovered. Samsung has installed Lojack for mobile Devices on some phones, but that requires a yearly subscription.
The proposed bill would require cellphones and tablets sold after 1 January 2015 to have “a technological solution that can render the essential features of the device inoperable when the device is not in possession of the rightful owner.” There would be fines between $500-2500 on retailers selling devices without such protection.
There are several reasons for concern, from consumers, and device manufacturers and carriers. For consumers, there is always the concern hackers will figure out a way to activate the kill switch, which would be inconvenient, to say the least. And the extra cost of implementing hardware and software solutions means extra cost to manufacturers and carriers. But if the law passes, the kill switch will become a standard on all devices, since it’s not financially reasonable to make such devices only for California. Over the next few months, the bill will be discussed in the California senate, where it’s chances of passage are unknown at this time.