Does Your Phone Need a Kill Switch?

If you have ever had your smartphone stolen (possibly by an evil date), you might be reassured to know that you're in good company: over one million smartphones are stolen every year. And there's even better news: a proposed innovation could whittle that number down significantly. It's called a "kill switch" and it's basically what it sounds like, except instead of flipping a switch to permanently shut down your phone and wipe its data, you make a call to your service provider. But implementing such a program could still save consumers $2.6 billion annually.

Proponents of the kill switch say that it would make smartphone theft more rare – after all, why bother to take it when you know the owner can render it useless by the end of the day? And this would in turn would mean that consumers wouldn't be willing to pay so much for expensive insurance plans against their phones being stolen. Plus there's the obvious fact that whoever stole your phone wouldn't be able to steal any of your personal info and use it against you.

Cell phone companies, though, aren't wild on the idea. They claim that implementing such a program would require putting the kill switch codes in the hands of every customer service representative and that this could provide an opportunity for hackers, actually making phones less secure. Plus, customers who later located phones that had only been misplaced would still be stuck buying new phones, since the old ones would now be useless. And 60 percent of insurance claims on smartphones are the result of lost, not stolen, phones anyway.

Others, though, claim that the companies are invested in keeping the rate of smartphone theft high because it means they can continue to cash in on expensive insurance policies.

Regardless of the possible pitfalls of the program, however, the vast majority of consumers are in favor of kill switches – literally 99 percent, according to one survey.

Though personally I'm not the biggest fan of giving out the codes to kill my phone completely to hundreds of customer service reps, it does seem ridiculous that there isn't any way to remotely wipe or shut down a stolen phone. After all, it's certainly easy enough to cancel a credit card, and most phones can probably be even more damaging in the wrong hands. In a world where identity theft is such a big problem, it's not only the military who need to destroy potentially damaging information.

Could kill switches really be the silver bullet their proponents claim? Maybe, if the companies set up an internal system to reduce the risk for abuse. But one way or another, we keep too much info on our phones not to have some sort of plan for how to keep that info out of the wrong hands.

Or maybe we should just demand some of those self destructing phones. That works, too.