While you were oohing and ahhing (or hemming and hawing) over the slick visual redesign coming in Apple's next iOS software update, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman were plotting to curb smartphone thefts by lobbying major wireless carriers for a remote kill switch, which would make it impossible to re-activate a stolen device.
The feature has long been available to cellphone users outside of the U.S., where there's less incentive to swipe someone else's mobile device if a service provider can easily turn it into a useless, unsellable piece of electronics. Stateside, however, the common thought is our ever-greedy service providers have no interest in curbing phone theft, because they like that you keep coming back to buy them anyway. According to the FCC, one in three robberies in the country involves a stolen cellphone. Later this year, the FCC will start keeping track of stolen cellphones in a nationwide database.
In San Francisco, where the snatch-and-run phone thief is a common occurrence on public transit, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr says the percentage of thefts that include portable gadgets is even higher: "And I can say routinely, in all areas, over 50 percent of our property crime is mobile devices," Suhr told the Chronicle's Chuck Nevius, who has been making the cellphone killswitch one of his causes célèbres along with Tenderloin Fecal Identification and maintaining a love/hate relationship with the America's Cup.
Gascón and Schneiderman are scheduled to host a summit with phone manufacturers from Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft in New York on Thursday, but yesterday at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference the company announced a similar security upgrades to the Find My iPhone system. (You know, the one that is currently only useful if you leave your phone in a cab or behind a couch, but quickly disabled by turning off the phone.) Apple hasn't laid out all of the details yet, but it will require your Apple login information in order to turn off the Find My iPhone feature and the same information to reactivate it after stolen.
In a statement, Gascón and Schneider said they'd check out Apple's new features but are reserving judgement for now.