Kill switch allows users to remotely lock, wipe their phones, but cops can use it, too.
Starting in July 2015, any smartphone sold in California will have to have a user-accessible remote kill switch built into the software.
Signed into law yesterday, Senate Bill No. 962 (SB 962) ensures that any smartphone owner will be able to remotely lock, and then wipe (if necessary) his or her smartphone. The bill is an attempt to curb smartphone theft, which California State Senator, and bill sponsor Mark Leno calls a violence-fueling "crime of convenience."
The kill switch will be turned on by default with new smartphones, but the feature can be turned off by the user. Furthermore, the switch must be able to survive attempts to re-install the phone's operating system.
California's massive consumer footprint, and the fact that the two biggest smartphone players (Apple and Google) are headquartered there means this policy will likely extend to all smartphones sold in the United States, at the very least.
There is one potential downside to the new kill switch policy: Law enforcement involvement. Cops and other authorities could use the kill switch's lock feature on a widespread scale during protests, riots, or other major public events, rendering smartphones in the crowd useless. While a court order will be necessary in most cases, such an order would not be required in the event(s) of "immediate danger of death or great bodily injury."
Google already offers the robust Android Device Manager. Once your register your phone with ADM, you can use any computer to log into the attached Google account, and then call, lock, wipe, or track your phone from there. It works incredibly well, even if GPS is turned off on your phone -- take it from a Tech Editor who used ADM to successfully recover his HTC One M8 from a cab just last week!