Apple’s Activation Lock Leads To Big Drops In Smartphone Theft Worldwide

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The temptation of a smartphone for a thief is dropping, thanks to Apple’s decision to implement a remote kill switch via Find My Phone that can erase and disable a phone once it’s been stolen or gone missing. A new report from Reuters found that iPhone theft dropped by 50 percent in London, 40 percent in San Francisco and 25 percent in New York. The drops represent theft activity as measured during the 12 months following Apple’s introduction of the remote locking feature in September 2013 as part of iOS 7. With iOS 8, Apple made its so-called said “kill switch” active by default, in accordance with California regulation, and that should help the rates of theft continue to trend downwards.

Apple’s Activation Lock requires a user to authorize a wipe or fresh install using the existing iCloud credentials on record, ensuring that a thief can’t go ahead and just wipe the device easily to use it themselves or prepare it for sale on the secondary market. Apple is one of the first major manufacturers to switch to implementing the system by default, rather than through user opt-in, which means it should be present on far more devices. All new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus units, for instance, will have it on be default given that they shipped with iOS 8 pre-installed.

Stats from last year indicated that Apple’s implementation of the Activation Lock were having a significant effect, but Apple’s combined iOS 8 adoption rate (currently at over 70 percent) and the fact that it’s now on by default means that the risk associated with stealing a modern iOS device is even greater. The aim is to make smartphone theft ultimately as futile as stealing a credit card, whereby a user ‘cancelling’ their hardware renders it ultimately useless.

Smartphone theft is often theft of opportunity, meaning a thief weighs reward vs. risk, including factors like how difficult it is to recoup an investment on something they’ve taken. Activation Lock doesn’t automatically render smartphones using it worthless to thieves, but it skews the value proposition considerably, and reduces reward (an iPhone sold for parts is worth far less than a fully functional unity, for instance).

Apple seems committed to coming up with new ways to protect user devices and data when it comes to theft, given its early pioneering of phone tracking tech via Find My iPhone. Patents awarded Apple have also described systems whereby the phone requires positive ID of the user to even display an unlock prompt, and tech which can monitor and report on unidentified users in the background.