Google and Microsoft are joining Apple and Samsung in adding a "kill switch" feature to their phone operating systems. Both Android and Windows phones will now offer a true kill switch as a way to fight back against thieves.
A kill switch basically turns a phone into a fancy paperweight, to varying degrees. There are two kinds of kill switches: hard and soft. A hard kill switch makes the phone permanently unusable, whereas a soft kill switch makes the phone unusable to unauthorized users.
Thus far, legislators have advocated for hard kill switches, as a soft kill switch leaves the phone open to a hack and may not activate if the phone is turned off, or if the connection is temporarily disabled.
If the kill switch activates successfully, it renders the value of the phone next to nothing. In the States, one-third of phone theft victims say they would pay up to $1,000 to get their device back. The street value for a stolen, unlocked phone can certainly get that expensive as well. However, if the phone is killed, there is no information to ransom to the rightful owner and it cannot be resold to anyone. Still, the thief could price out the parts of the phone, but that would not be much of a profit comparatively.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.