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Killswitch adoption gathering pace
Google and Microsoft are to follow in the footsteps of rival smartphone makers Apple and Samsung and introduce a "killswitch" to their mobile phones that deactivate them if stolen.
The move by the two technology giants comes after a report by the New York State attorney general found that the theft of iPhones has fallen significantly in the six months since Apple introduced new security features to its mobile operating system.
A "killswitch" gives users the power to completely disable a smartphone remotely after it has been stolen, as well as increasing security on the phone by adding more password layers, making it more difficult to wipe and then be sold on by thieves.
According to the report, since the Activation Lock feature was added to Apple's iOS 7 last year, the number of iPhone related robberies has fallen in major cities around the world, including by more than 20% in London and 17% in New York. The feature requires the entry of a passcode in order to disable location services on the device.
In April, Samsung introduced a similar feature called Reactivation Lock to some of their Galaxy smartphones that allows users to lock their phone remotely should it go missing or be stolen.
The report confirmed that following an initiative launched last year called Secure our Smartphones (SOS) - supported by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Microsoft and Google will be improving the security on their mobile devices.
"With the release of this report the SOS Initiative achieves two major milestones: Microsoft confirms it will incorporate a kill switch-type theft-deterrence solution in the next release of its Windows Phone operating system, which will run on all Nokia smartphones; and, Google confirms it will incorporate a kill switch-type theft-deterrence solution in its next version of the Android operating system, the most popular mobile operating system worldwide," said the report.
In a blog post on the company's official website, Microsoft's vice president of US Government Affairs Fred Humphries said: "Over recent months, Microsoft has been working with others in the wireless industry to develop voluntary principles for implementing more robust theft-deterrent technologies in smartphones.
"The new theft deterrent features will be offered as an update for all phones running Windows Phone 8.0 and newer, though availability is subject to mobile operator and phone manufacturer approval. Additional details on functionality and availability will be provided closer to the official release. With these additional features, we're hopeful that technology - as part of a broader strategy - can help to further reduce incentives for criminals to steal smartphones in the first place."
Experts still want firmer killswitches to be introduced that permanently disable smartphones. Those used at the moment by Apple on Samsung rely on a signal being sent to the phone to lock it, or a password to keep out unwanted users, and experts have warned that turning a phone off or placing it in airline mode can block signal from reaching it.
According to the most recent report into smartphone theft in the UK, more than 800,00 devices are stolen each year.