Microsoft, Google Yield to Pressure to Improve Phone Security

3 minute read
Joey Naddeo avatar

Microsoft and Google will incorporate a kill switch into the next version of Windows-based and Android smartphones. The feature, which is already featured on Apple's iPhone 5, allows users to remotely wipe all data and information on the device in the event of theft.

At a press conference yesterday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced they had reached agreements with both companies to include the feature in the next iteration of their respective operating systems.

Protecting the US Market

Google’s operating system, Android, runs on more than half of all smartphones used in the United States. Microsoft’s operating system is on all Nokia smartphones. Once the feature is deployed, about 97 percent of all smartphones in the US, including iPhones, will have kill switches.

Of course, that statistic could change based on adoption of Amazon's new Fire Phone, which includes several remote features, including:

  • Remote Alarm —sounds an alarm for 2 min to help you find your phone if it’s nearby
  • Find Your Phone — pulls up a map with the approximate location of the device on Amazon.com
  • Remote Lock — lets you put your device into sleep mode, set a PIN and display a message on the lock screen of your device
  • Remote Factory Reset — wipes all your info off of the device and performs a full factory reset
  • De-register — signs you out of all Amazon apps

Amazon customer service can also blacklist the device so it cannot be registered to another Amazon account without your consent, the company told CMSWire.

Curtailing Theft

The main goal is to deter criminal activity and decrease the incidence of smart phone theft, an issue which many law enforcement officials feel is insufficiently addressed by existing security measures.Smart phone theft nearly doubled in 2013 over 2012 levels, with 3.1 million incidents being reported. 

Learning Opportunities

Could this have implications for the growing bring your own device (BYOD) trend, which appears to have tremendous fears over the theft and loss of mobile devices containing valuable information? It's questionable, seeing as current litigation, especially in California, provides an exemption for similar features on tablets.

There's also the continued threat of losing personal laptops. Until safeguards exist for all such potentialities, it's likely that companies getting on board with the BYOD trend will have to make do with available measures. 

The announcement coincides with a new report by the Secure Our Smartphones (“S.O.S.”) Initiative, an international partnership of law-enforcement agencies, elected officials and consumer advocates, which marks its first year today.

The report also revealed new crime statistics showing that, after Apple added a "kill switch," robberies and grand larcenies involving iPhones plummeted. Simultaneously, violent crimes against people carrying phones without a kill switch surged.