Smartphone ‘kill switch’ could save consumers billions, researcher says

Technology that can render a stolen smartphone worthless to thieves could save consumers $2.6 billion a year in product replacement and insurance premiums if it significantly reduces thefts of the devices, a new report says.

lockedphone_artThe study by Creighton University researcher William Duckworth is the latest argument for the installation of so-called “kill switch” technology in smartphones. California became the first state in the nation to propose making the disabling technology mandatory on the devices when state legislators proposed a bill in February. Federal lawmakers are also considering legislation in Washington.

Wireless carriers have mostly resisted these requests, and the wireless trade group CTIA has come out in opposition, citing potential hacking and privacy risks that could affect entire groups of smartphone customers.

Duckworth, an assistant professor of statistics, data science and analytics at Creighton, surveyed 1,200 smartphone owners in February using ResearchNow and reviewed the average cost of the devices and insurance as part of his study.

Duckworth estimated that it costs consumers about $580 million a year to replace stolen smartphones and another $4.8 billion annually to insure premium handsets like the iPhone. Duckworth summarizes in his report:

“A stolen smartphone – such as the iPhone 5S – could sell for $800 or more in the United States and overseas. For criminals, a stolen phone could be worth more than a stolen wallet, a tablet, or even a laptop.”

The professor said his research showed that if the kill switch technology proves an effective deterrent by rendering stolen smartphones useless, leaving no incentive for thieves to steal them, most of the $580 million spent by users to replace the devices would be saved.

Another $2 billion a year would be saved by customers who switch to cheaper insurance coverage for their devices. Duckworth says at least half of smartphone users would do this if the disabling technology reduced the theft threat.

Says Duckworth:

“Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the Kill Switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year.”

Duckworth’s survey also found that:

  • 99 percent of smartphone owners believe wireless carries should allow consumers the option to disable the device if it is stolen
  • 93 percent believe owners should not be expected to pay extra for the ability to disable a stolen phone
  • 83 percent believe a kill switch would reduce smartphone theft.