There has been a lot of talk about a kill switch for mobile phones and even more confusion over what that term means. This article takes a look at the proposed smartphone kill switch and what it means to you.
The Smartphone Kill Switch – What Is It?
For some time now, the FCC has been pushing smartphone manufacturers and telecommunications carriers to build a so-called kill switch into their products and services. If the FCC has their way, smartphones that are reported lost or stolen would go into a special database maintained by all telecommunications carriers. Those carriers would have to check that database before activating any device, essentially rendering the phone useless to thieves.
At the same time, the data on the lost or stolen phone would be locked, making it very difficult for a thief to recover personal information, embarrassing photos or other data. In order to be effective, the kill switch will have to be built into the hardware of the phone, and all telecommunications carriers will need to abide by the FCC guidelines.
It is not hard to see why a kill switch is a good idea or why it is needed. The very thing that makes smartphones so popular – their portability – also makes them tempting targets for thieves. Millions of smartphones are stolen every year, and consumers wrack up millions of dollars in activation fees and other charges to replace those lost phones.
A lost smartphone is also a significant security risk, especially if the user failed to lock it down and secure it properly. Smartphone users keep an astonishing amount of personal information on their phones, and having that data fall into the wrong hands could lead to identity theft and other long-term problems.
Factors Holding Back Smartphone Kill Switch Implementation
At the moment, there are a few things standing in the way of the kill switch idea and its implementation. There has been a surprising amount of pushback on the part of telecommunications carriers, and that has made smartphone manufacturers reluctant to incorporate the kill switch into their designs.
Perhaps this pushback should not be so surprising, since carriers make a lot of money charging for new activations, replacing lost smartphones and selling theft insurance. Unless and until the carriers come onboard, the kill switch may remain just a dream.
The FCC could always mandate the inclusion of a kill switch, but so far the agency has been reluctant to do so. At the moment the kill switch remains a suggestion to both manufacturers and carriers, and it is likely to remain that way for some time.
There is also the problem of user action. If the kill switch is incorporated into future generations of smartphones, it is expected to be included as an opt-in option. That means users will need to activate it, and many simply will not bother. Since thieves will have no way of knowing ahead of time which phones are protected, the rash of thefts will continue.
Carriers can do a lot to educate their consumers and teach them how to turn on the kill switch feature. Smartphone manufacturers and carriers could, for instance, make activating the kill switch a requirement for getting a free replacement phone.
If you think the kill switch is a smart idea, it is important to ask your carrier about it. The kill switch is slowly being phased in by both manufacturers and carriers, and every company has its own timeline.
In the meantime, you can already get a lot of the kill switch functionality by using locking programs, anti-theft devices and tracking technology. Taking the time to download security apps, set a secure password and add a remote locking and tracking program can help you protect your phone and the data it contains, even without an actual kill switch.