Lawmakers and carriers alike are pushing for a “kill switch” standard for all smartphones, which would render stolen phones useless to thieves. And if bills guarding against smartphone theft didn’t have enough support already, one statistics professor found that such a measure would save money for everyone—especially consumers.
William Duckworth, an associate professor of data science and analytics at Creighton University, found that American consumers would save millions, if not billions of dollars, from a smartphone “kill switch,” thanks in large part to reduced insurance premiums.
According to Duckworth, U.S. consumers spend roughly $580 million replacing stolen phones each year, but that’s just a small fraction compared to what those consumers pay for insurance on those handsets: $4.8 billion each year.
A kill switch, which would also destroy the business of reselling stolen smartphones, would save consumers most of the $580 million they spend each year on replacing their stolen phones. But Duckworth estimates consumers could save a further $2 billion if they could switch to cheaper insurance plans that didn’t cover theft.
Duckworth said not all customers would buy an insurance plan that doesn’t cover theft—even with a “kill switch” in place—but through a survey of 1,200 smartphone users in February, he found the vast majority of smartphone owners would indeed support this measure. According to the survey, a whopping 99% of consumers thought carriers should be able to disable a stolen phone via “kill switch,” and 83% of respondents thought a kill switch would help reduce smartphone theft.
“I thought a high percentage would say yes, but it was a little surprising and maybe a bigger number than I would have guessed,” Duckworth said in an interview with PCWorld. He continued:
I view losing a credit card as a similar frame of reference. If it is stolen or lost, I can call the credit card company and get it canceled and they can issue a new one. There is safety there. My smartphone has tons of information and accounts in there, so the idea that I could call and say “kill it” is a very reasonable thing.
Will A Smartphone Kill Switch Actually Happen?
Though Duckworth’s report should help the case for a kill switch, lawmakers will still face some pushback from the CTIA, the lobbying group that represents the telecom industry—which has two executives from companies that sell insurance to smartphone owners on its board of directors.
The CTIA has a different idea on how to handle smartphone theft. Instead of shutting down stolen phones individually, the CTIA has offered up a database that can block stolen phones from being reactivated by the phone’s new owner. Unfortunately, the database has a few weaknesses, including the fact that it only works with a handful of countries; in other words, if you steal a phone and travel to the right country, the CTIA can’t block those stolen phones from getting reactivated.
Though the CTIA said a greater international reach should help nullify the weaknesses in its system, it’s clear that smartphone and mobile device robberies are on the rise. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, citing “data from law enforcement agencies,” says that about 20% of all robberies in New York City targeted a smartphone, while in San Francisco, that percentage grew to 50%. It’s also a problem internationally, with a reported 10,000 smartphones stolen in London each month.
“Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the Kill Switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year,” Duckworth concluded in his study.
Still, if lawmakers approve the kill switch for all smartphones, people don’t want the “kill switch” to be an extra feature they pay for. Fully 93% of those surveyed by Duckworth said the kill switch shouldn’t come at an extra cost.
Supporters of the kill switch like Gascon believe it to be a necessary measure that can save money, but also lives. According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million Americans were victimized for their smartphones in 2012, and some even lost their lives. A kill switch would be a strong deterrent to theft and violence, as well as an extra safety measure so consumers can feel safe with their smartphones.
“[Duckworth’s] survey confirms what we already knew to be the case, that wireless consumers would benefit tremendously from the implementation of theft deterrent technology on all smartphones,” Gascon said. “Beyond the financial benefits to consumers, however, the human costs of not implementing this technology on all smartphones are simply too great.”