Having your stuff stolen sucks—I know, I’ve had my purse stolen before—and even though companies like Google have made it easier for you to track where your device is going with apps like the Android Device Manager, it’s still not enough to keep thieves at bay.
On Thursday, according to a report on Bloomberg, Google has said that it plans to incorporate what it calls "factory reset protection" into the next version of Android to help users effectively “shut off” their devices so that thieves can’t do much more with your device after they’ve nabbed it. Apple already offers this functionality on its iOS devices. Lawmakers around the country have proposed bills that would make smartphone "kill switches" mandatory for smartphone vendors and carriers.
The kill switch isn’t just about keeping thieves from getting to your data. There are often violent confrontations associated with phone theft and the hope is that this particular feature would deter thieves from going to extreme lengths for used smartphone and tablets. Data suggests that features like kill switches actually deter thieves from going after those particular devices. If a theif knows that the phone they're about to steal will be nothing more than a shiny brick, it has no value and doesn't get stolen—or so the logic goes.
While lawmakers have proposed that phones could be permanently and irrevocably disabled by their owners or the carrier, solutions like Apple's, which require a secure password in order to reset a phone to factory settings, may work just as well. We don't know yet what precise solution Google has in store.
“We must ensure these solutions are deployed in a more effective manner that does not rely on consumers to seek them out an turn them on, but the fact that virtually the entire industry has responded to our call to action is an indication that we are well on our way to ending this public safety crisis,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. “Statistics validate what we always knew to be true, that a technological solution has the potential to end the victimization of wireless consumers everywhere.”