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Google, Microsoft Will Include Kill Switches in Next OS

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Thursday that Google and Microsoft have agreed to add a kill switch to the next version of their mobile operating systems, namely Windows Phone and Android.

The news arrives after the Secure Our Smartphones ("S.O.S.") Initiative released a report revealing that once Apple added a "kill switch" to the iPhone, robberies and grand larcenies related to the device "plummeted." However, crimes against individuals who carry a phone without the kill switches have surged.

"The commitments of Google and Microsoft are giant steps toward consumer safety, and the statistics released today illustrate the stunning effectiveness of kill switches," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "In just one year, the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative has made tremendous strides towards curtailing the alarming trend of violent smartphone theft."

Apple released the iPhone's Activation Lock on September 18, 2013. In the first five months of 2014, iOS-related thefts and grand larceny incidents in New York City dropped 19 percent and 29 percent, respectively, when compared to the same time frame in 2013. However, thefts and grand larcenies involving a Samsung phone increased by over 40 percent, which was before Samsung added kill switches (Reactivation Lock) to its Verizon-based phones in April.

"Statistics from San Francisco and London show similar outcomes. In San Francisco, iPhone robberies declined 38 percent while robberies of Samsung devices increased by 12 percent," states the PR. "In London, Apple thefts declined by 24 percent while Samsung thefts increased by 3 percent. (In both cities, data from six months leading up to Apple's Activation Lock was compared to the six months following its introduction.)"

Microsoft and Google's move to add kill switches to their platforms means that the anti-theft solution will be on the three dominant smartphone operating systems, which account for 97 percent of the smartphones in North America, reports Schneiderman.

Microsoft goes into more detail in a Technet blog, reporting that the "Find My Phone" feature will be extended to include a number of new features. These include remotely erasing data from the phone, rendering the device inoperable, preventing reactivation or setup, and reversing the inoperability if the phone is recovered.

"The new theft deterrent features will be offered as an update for all phones running Windows Phone 8.0 and newer, though availability is subject to mobile operator and phone manufacturer approval. Additional details on functionality and availability will be provided closer to the official release," writes Fred Humphries, Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft.

Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros told the Associated Press on Thursday that Android's next build will have a factory reset protection solution. Additional details will be provided shortly.

Follow Kevin Parrish @exfileme. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Add your comment Display 22 Comments.
  • -1 Hide
    LostAlone , June 20, 2014 11:03 AM
    This is probably a bit previous at this point but... How the hell has Android not had this? I had remote lock down on my blackberry in 2008.
  • -4 Hide
    Integr8d , June 20, 2014 11:59 AM
    Microsoft's kill switch will be to just make the phone blue screen every five seconds.
  • 5 Hide
    BewareOfButtlice , June 20, 2014 12:01 PM
    They already have this on android phones. You can locate, lock, delete, and send an alarm to your android phone through google. https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager
  • 5 Hide
    qlum , June 20, 2014 12:12 PM
    While I can see the use of a kill switch I don't really feel comfortable with a company like google apple or microsoft holding the key. I much rather be the only one capable of killing my phone.
  • 8 Hide
    WithoutWeakness , June 20, 2014 12:15 PM
    I'm starting to think that the zombie-phone-guy image is just a placeholder for when the author is too lazy to find a relevant thumbnail.
  • 4 Hide
    WyomingKnott , June 20, 2014 1:21 PM
    The next ransomware: "Send $250 or your phone will be bricked."
  • 0 Hide
    joddy466 , June 20, 2014 1:30 PM
    Could it be that thieves simply perceive Samsung phones as more valuable with no connection whatsoever to a kill switch. After-all correlation does not imply causation.

    Just a thought.
  • 2 Hide
    Christopher1 , June 20, 2014 1:52 PM
    Quote:
    The next ransomware: "Send $250 or your phone will be bricked."

    Bingo. That is what I am concerned about, someone will get access to this functionality and use it illegtimately.
  • 3 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , June 20, 2014 4:20 PM
    microsoft already has a kill switch for their phones it's called windows 8 mobile. as soon as a thief finds out it's running windows 8 mobile they give it back. lol
  • 2 Hide
    becherovka , June 20, 2014 5:29 PM
    Quote:
    The next ransomware: "Send $250 or your phone will be bricked."

    This is already done. iPhones held ransom in Australia.
    http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/consumer-security/australian-apple-idevices-hijacked-held-to-ransom-20140527-zrpbj.html
  • 0 Hide
    ericburnby , June 20, 2014 8:17 PM
    Quote:
    Could it be that thieves simply perceive Samsung phones as more valuable with no connection whatsoever to a kill switch. After-all correlation does not imply causation.

    Just a thought.

    Please. That's the new catchphrase in every article I've seen the last couple days: correlation does not equal causation.

    iPhone thefts dropped immediately after iOS 7 and Activation Lock came out while during the exact same period Samsung thefts went up. And you don't think there's any relationship? Perhaps you know of some other new tech or event that coincided with this to explain it? Or are you just trying to minimize the significant impact Activation Lock has had?
  • 0 Hide
    ericburnby , June 20, 2014 8:21 PM
    Quote:
    While I can see the use of a kill switch I don't really feel comfortable with a company like google apple or microsoft holding the key. I much rather be the only one capable of killing my phone.


    Uh, they don't hold the "key", With Apple and Activation Lock I'm in complete control. I can decide if I want to erase/brick my iPhone and whether Activation Lock is even turned on. It's not up to Apple at all.

    I highly doubt it would be any different with Google or Microsoft.
  • 1 Hide
    hoofhearted , June 20, 2014 8:42 PM
    Quote:
    They already have this on android phones. You can locate, lock, delete, and send an alarm to your android phone through google. https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager


    That alarm feature (ring) is so cool. Lost tablet no more. Would be kind of funny if this got hacked somehow and someone made all Android devices in the world ring at once.
  • 1 Hide
    C 64 , June 22, 2014 12:22 AM
    Quote:
    The next ransomware: "Send $250 or your phone will be bricked."


    Missing the pint here. It will be more like: " Mandatory update - 250 $ or your phone will be bricked. xoxo MS"
  • 0 Hide
    back_by_demand , June 23, 2014 4:19 AM
    MS & Google introduce killswitches, then Apple sues them for copying the iPhone
  • -1 Hide
    iogbrideau , June 23, 2014 11:36 AM
    Android already has a killswitch, but probably wasn't advertising it to avoid a lawsuit by apple.
  • 0 Hide
    urbanman2004 , June 23, 2014 3:29 PM
    All this time Samsung had one. Where the f*ck i been
  • 0 Hide
    ericburnby , June 23, 2014 9:53 PM
    Quote:
    Android already has a killswitch, but probably wasn't advertising it to avoid a lawsuit by apple.


    No they don't. You're confusing the ability to erase a device and protect your data with the ability to prevent a stolen device from being flashed and re-sold. Android can't do the latter.
  • 0 Hide
    virtualban , June 24, 2014 12:57 AM
    Mandatory updates (free or paid, free mostly since mandatory), and planned obsolesce, so you will NEED to buy a new phone. These are my fears (along with ransomware of course, but careful usage can skip ransomware, and nothing can skip mandatory updates).
  • 0 Hide
    Phillip Wager , June 24, 2014 1:42 AM
    aaannnd im never buying a smartphone again. after going smartphone less for a year i realize just how much a waste of money these things really are. maybe its just because im allways right near a real computer but it just seems pointless to me to do anything on a tiny phone.
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