Apple added what’s known as a "kill switch" to iPhones last September. Authorities say that has sharply reduced robberies and thefts of the popular smartphone. Now, Microsoft and Google will a kill switch to their smartphone operating systems.
Annie Boken's sister Megan was killed for her iPhone two years ago while attending college in St. Louis, slain by a robber at the height of a crimewave perpetrated by so-called "apple pickers." "She was away from home and she called our mom to check in while she was on the way to her car. During the conversation, the call dropped suddenly, and Megan never picked up the phone again. Megan was targeted by a thief who was canvassing the neighborhood and looking for somebody to rob. When he saw Megan's white iPhone he decided she would be the target of the robbery. He approached Megan as she got into the car, and when the thief couldn't get to her phone, he shot her twice. This all happened at 2 O'clock in the afternoon in a busy neighborhood on a beautiful sunny day in August."
Annie appeared this week at a New York City press conference with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. A year ago, Annie Boken helped the two officials kick off the Secure Our Smartphones (“S.O.S.”) Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and consumer advocates. Schneiderman: "We were initially told by many in the industry that nothing could be done. Companies that invented technologies that have changed our lives and our societies in previously unimaginable ways were telling us they lacked the capability to install kill switches on smartphones so that our phones could be cancelled the way that you cancel a credit card. But we knew better, and we started organizing, and now, one year later, I'm proud to say the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative has made tremendous progress, and that we are closing down this crimewave of smartphone theft."
Schneiderman and Gascón announced that kill switches will now be incorporated into the three dominant smartphone operating systems — Android, iPhone, and Windows —representing 97 percent of smartphones in the United States.
Boken says nothing will replace the loss of her sister, but the new technology will save many innocent lives. "When I first stood here one year ago at the launch of the SOS initiative, I hoped that by sharing Megan's story I could prevent someone else from becoming a victim of this senseless crime. It's incredible that just one year later we now have data showing the kill switch is already proving to be an effective deterrent against violent theft. We know that it works. And we know that it will save lives."
DA Gascón says that while many users don't know how to enable the anti-theft technology, he's against making it compulsory. "Not only does the technology have to be available, but the technology has to be universally applied. And if I as a consumer decide not to use the technology, then I can turn it off."
Schneiderman pointed out that criminals now target devices not likely to be equipped with a kill switch, increasing the importance of immediately implementing the life-saving technology across all manufacturers.
Data collected by the New York Police Department show that since Apple added the kill switch in September, the number of iPhone robberies has fallen dramatically. Statistics from San Francisco show similar outcomes.