Google confirms new ‘kill switch’ feature for next version of Android

Smartphone Theft

Say what you want about the iPhone, one of the phone’s single greatest features is the ability to prevent the device from being factory reset and used by another party as their own (without permission, of course). But in a statement issued today by Google, the search giant will finally be implementing a similar feature for the next major Android release.

But Google isn’t the only one. Microsoft will also be joining Google in offering this “factory reset protection solution.” It’s unclear whether the new security feature will join existing ones found in the Android Device Manager, but we’re sure to learn more during Google I/O kicking off in a few more days.

This is all in an effort to curb smartphone thefts and couldn’t have come at a better time. A recent reports showed a 19% drop off in iPhone thefts from 2013 to 2014 thanks to Apple’s kill switch feature on their devices. Don’t forget, a new bill introduced in February is looking to require all phones sold in the US to include kill switch functionality. Senators believe that this is the only way to truly prevent smartphone thefts, making it common knowledge that would-be smartphone thieves are getting little more than a shiny new brick.

While we weren’t expecting to see “the next version of Android” debut until later this year (for Android Silver or another Nexus device), Android 4.4.4 made a surprise appearance today on Nexus/Google Play edition devices. It’s possible the kill switch could arrive in yet another version of KitKat, or in the next major Android release (Android 5.0 Lollipop or whatever you wanna call it). We’ll have to wait until we hear more from Google.

[Bloomberg]

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  • a) youth.in.asia

    No need to worry Microsoft, no one steals your phones. You would be the only one doing it because everyone else is doing it

    • New_Guy777

      You just made me chuckle. I heard about a guy who put his windows phone on the hood of his car with a $20 bill tucked behind it as an incentive to take his phone while he went into the store. When he got back out, the $20 was gone, but his phone remained. The thief at least had good taste.

      • a) youth.in.asia

        That’s hilarious

  • PhishyKris

    Does anyone really think that this will prevent crime?! How F#$%ing stupid do you have to be?? all the thieves in the world will just stop stealing technology…they will all get the memo…pulease. Of course the switch will be optional??? I sure as hell hope so. and this will mean that few will turn it on…which means that once again none of this will matter.

    • TDN

      If it is part of a phone’s activation process, people will get the memo. Although that is still a bit of wishful thinking, but at least you are covered if it happens to you.

    • jackdubl

      19% drop in thefts so far, after only a short period. And thefts typically rise every year. Read much?

      • mcl630

        They provide no evidence that the 19% drop is directly attributable to the “kill switch.” Many people are unaware their iPhone even has this feature… presumably many thieves are as well. The whole point of having this is the supposition that if thieves *know* a phone can be bricked they won’t bother stealing one.

        • jackdubl

          So when something goes up every year, as iPhone thefts have, and then they suddenly decrease one year, you don’t attribute any of that to the feature they happened to add to curb thefts? That actually is evidence; it’s called empirical evidence. Meanwhile, you assume it couldn’t have to do with that based on your other assumptions that nobody knows about this, an assumption for which you have no evidence. You probably think there is no evidence of global warming either. Am I right?

          • mcl630

            I didn’t say I don’t attribute *any* of it to kill switch. I’m saying there’s probably other reasons as well. My point is people keep repeating that 19% statistic without providing any evidence that’s tied to kill switch or why it’s not tied to other reasons. As for global warming, that’s tons of evidence that it’s happening.

          • jackdubl

            Apparently law enforcement disagrees with you: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5510748

            Not surprising.

  • phinn

    It’s about time, isn’t this actually a law somewhere next year?

    • TDN

      I believe it is law in California.

  • mastawyrm

    How is this different from the various options already in the android device manager? https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager?u=1 for anyone unaware

    • New_Guy777

      It makes the factory reset a password protected option. If you steal a phone with no lock screen, this is like step #1 for a thief.

    • TDN

      The problem is, the general public IS unaware. Very few people I know have device manager installed; let alone turned on. If it is mandated (and part of a phone activation) it will help to spread awareness and make it more difficult for thieves to get away with a device.

      • New_Guy777

        You don’t have to have device manager installed. Sure, there’s an app called android device manager, but it’s not what allows you to wipe or lock the device remotely. The app merely lets you locate, lock, or wipe your phone (or a friend’s with their sign-in) with a handheld device instead of going through a computer browser.

        PS – The locate/lock/wipe functionality is located in the Google settings, see here: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3265955?p=android_device_manager&rd=1

  • Roaduardo

    Honest poll, what are the cons to this everyone? List your reasons:

    • Rukbat

      A thief steals a $600 phone, replaces the motherboard for $100 and sells the phone as used for $450. It sounds like a legitimate deal, the phone is “legal”, you’re out one phone and the thief makes $350 for less than an hour’s work.

      • http://www.colossaldamage.com/ SuperMarino

        That’s the best you have, really? If the thief is acquiring $100 motherboards for the specific model he steals, and then is going to open the device, swap the motherboard, make the phone operational again, and sell it used to make $350 profit.. don’t you think he’s got more talent or ability to do something with better payoff and less risk? If you think the average thief will do this, I’d hate to live where you do with all the criminal masterminds running around.

        Smartphone theft won’t end, but this will deter the average thief from stealing a device, and even if they do at first, they’ll soon learn that the odds are against them and they steal something that effectively becomes worthless after they take the risk and steal it. Not a great business.

      • malcmilli

        yeah but 99% of thieves arent purchasing motherboards and opening up the phone and swapping it out. If they tech know how odds are they’d make more money else where instead of roaming the streets looking for phones all day.

        Generally phone thieves just see a phone on the table put it in their pocket and sell it on ebay.

      • dandybuck

        wow, that’s quite a stretch.

      • Mark Wheeler

        Most smartphone thieves aren’t that ” smart ” most of them are just petty thugs looking for a quick buck to buy some smack with.

        Replacing motherboards probably isn’t in their skill set lol. Believe me I’ve worked on enough iPhones to know that takes a steady hand.

        • Roaduardo

          Even replacing the screen can be a chore. I replaced several at my previous command in Virgina when I was still in the Navy. Folks would be sent my way during lunch asking for help with their cracked screens. They’d buy the replacement and I’d swap it out for them in exchange for lunch. ;)

      • Roaduardo

        That sounds like something a criminal organization would do, not a single thief.

      • Robb Nunya

        I’m pretty good with tearing down small electronics. I won’t touch a modern HTC phone. There are others as well. If they break, I’ll buy another if it’s out of warranty. Even the EVO 4G LTE is a complete PITA to work on. I swapped a screen on that thing, and decided never to do that again.

        • Rukbat

          Which is why I tell most people asking about replacing parts in their phones to bring the phone to a repair shop. It’s not like changing a tire, is it? :) If you have good eyes, a head magnifier and steady hands (and the required knowledge), it’s not all that difficult to do if you spend 8 hours a day doing it. But phones aren’t built “dead bug”, or even like Arduinos. (I’d almost swear they had little nano-elves putting some of those parts in.)

          But a bunch of experienced, unethical technicians could make good money selling “repaired” killed phones.

          (If you were around back before computer viruses, you’ll remember that the general opinion was that anyone good enough to write malicious code would spend his efforts writing useful code. We’ve seen how long that opinion lasted. Less time than “no one will ever need more than 640KB of RAM” [which Bill Gates never said].)

          • Robb Nunya

            My 1st computer was a TRS-80 Model 1. So yeah. Been there :)

    • http://www.colossaldamage.com/ SuperMarino

      The biggest con is that legitimate facilities that handle recycled phones will end up having to scrap a lot more devices instead of redistributing them to those in need. It’s already happening with iPhones, and these facilities are out of luck. You break your phone, go and buy a new one, dropping the old in some recycling bin or trading it in, whatever, now when it gets to the facility they can’t factory reset it, and it becomes a paperweight.

      This isn’t a con to the average user, and personally I prefer that this theft deterrent exists over not existing, but overall this will lead to more electronic waste and that is generally bad for the environment.

      • Max

        I imagine the kill switch is only activated if you report the sn#stolen or am i wrong?

        • mcl630

          What’s stopping someone from activating it for other reasons, or just plain maliciousness? I’ll answer my own question… nothing.

      • Roaduardo

        That’s a very good point, I forgot about the refurb cycle system that’s in place. Hmm, has anyone from the industry addressed this in regard to the “kill switch” legislation?

    • mcl630

      Hackers using this to brick people’s phones.
      Carriers bricking phones of people who are late paying or left for another carrier.
      Governments bricking innocent people’s phones if the name of “fighting terrorism.”
      Law enforcement bricking phones of suspects who are later cleared or found innocent.
      And on and on…

      To boil it down, if you can remotely brick your phone, someone can as well.

      • Roaduardo

        Everything you listed is the type of abuse that I’ve been worried about when I first started hearing about legislation to enforce this type of software. It’s scary enough knowing there’s folks today that can gain access to your mobile device, with this move it would be even easier.

      • Roaduardo

        The bit about carriers locking phones out from delinquent customers sounds like something the industry would like to use as incentive to motivate folks to keep up with payments. That’s just a horrible idea, threatening people like that. Cutting off phone services is enough, locking down the device entirely is madness.

  • JWells

    Hackers / perverts who create malicious virusus, malware, etc. will have a new hobby / target . . . killing people’s phones!

  • Jason Yuen

    Does anyone else think that this move was pushed hard by OEMs to hurt the second hand market? Think of it as a buyer. You’re looking for a second hand Android phone but you now know that after the sale, there’s a possibility that the phone will be “killed” by the original owner. For many people, that’s enough to pass and buy new from the store.

    • Brian

      That’s a criminal act that can be pursued in court. That is similar to a landlord going into their rental property when everyone is working and throwing out all their stuff. Or, keeping a key for a car you just sold …

      • Jason Yuen

        Absolutely correct, but how many people actually follow up on going to court on a $400 phone they bought second hand without paperwork? Most people would either just take the loss or not buy second hand in the first place.

        • Brian

          In the future when you sell/buy a phone simply both sign a simple 1-page agreement confirming the sale. The only downside of this is that now each party must reveal their identity (*shock*).

          You can type up something simple, or download a sample. Similar to a barebones tenant-at-will agreement :)

          • JRomeo

            what you speak of is crazy. somebody who buys a used phone, should not have to worry about the previous owner bricking their phone. this kill switch should have an option to re-assign the owner to whoever is now the new owner. technology is supposed to advance. not bring drawbacks.

          • Brian

            @JRomeo: I completely agree you should be able to reassign the owner. This new Android feature hasn’t been released yet, so lets not jump to conclusions. What I was describing though is how you conduct a proper business transaction of *any* kind. If you’ve ever bought/sold a used car you’ll know that it’s not much effort. Receipts exist for a reason :)

        • JRomeo

          I’m fairly sure this won’t happen, it’ll cause a revolt. there will be a method of re-assigning the original owner to a new owner, so that the previous owner no longer has access to a kill-switch. stay tuned… details about this will pop up on blog sites like this one once everyone learns how it works.

    • steveb944

      As long as you use a reputable company like Swappa you’ll be fine.

      If you go the Craigslist route, just be sure it’s factory reset in front of you to make sure it’s good to go for your account.

  • Mark Wheeler

    Now if we can just get rid of those Eco ATMs that are instants gratification for criminals even if it is a ” shiny brick “

  • mintslice

    “A recent reports showed a 19% drop off in iPhone thefts from 2013 to 2014 thanks to Apple’s kill switch feature.”

    That’s pretty specific about what caused the drop off. Maybe that should include the words “in part due to” instead of “thanks to”.

    Did the researchers consider the possibility that iPhone thefts were down because iPhone are less desirable these days?

    • JointhePredacons

      Im sure no one considered that, lol. Dont ya know, iPhones are still the bestest widdle smartphones in the whole wide world…. Sad.

  • JointhePredacons

    They should make an “explode in your face” switch so the mofo that stole your phone never steals or breathes again. Im just jesting, but it would be cool.