Microsoft promises Windows Phone 'kill-switch' by July 2015

Data shows iPhone thefts dropped significantly after iOS 7 added Activation Lock

Microsoft today spelled out the "kill-switch" deterrents it will add to the Windows Phone mobile operating system, and said it would meet an industry deadline for making stolen smartphones useless.

The announcement came hard on the heels of new data that shows anti-theft tools have dramatically reduced smartphone-related crime.

"Today we are able to confirm that we will meet these commitments before the CTIA goal of July 2015," said Fred Humphries, an executive in Microsoft's U.S. government affairs group -- in other words, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist for the company -- in a Thursday blog.

The commitments Humphries referenced were those penned in April by the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group. According to the "Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment," signees must pledge to offer four theft-deterrent features, ranging from remote wipe to a kill-switch that "bricks" the device.

Microsoft signed the agreement two months ago, as did Google and Apple, Samsung and HTC, AT&T and Verizon, and others.

The CTIA's voluntary pledges were meant to ward off criticism of the wireless industry's foot-dragging in the face of a fast-growing increase in violent smartphone theft, and to preempt federal legislation working its way through the U.S. Congress.

Earlier today, U.S. law enforcement authorities reported that iPhone theft had sharply decreased in New York City and San Francisco since September 2013, when Apple rolled out iOS 7. That upgrade included a kill-switch that locked stolen iPhones and iPads, and let owners remotely wipe devices.

Apple called the function Activation Lock. According to a survey conducted by the San Francisco district attorney's office, 80% of iPhone owners running iOS 7 enabled the feature.

Microsoft, Google and others are trying to catch up with Apple.

While Humphries confirmed that Windows Phone will include the necessary anti-theft features by the CTIA's July 2015 deadline, he did not provide any more details on timing.

"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," Humphries said.

The new functionality will be added to the already-in-place "Find My Phone" section of Windows Phone's settings. Users of Windows Phone-powered devices access the feature's tools through a website Microsoft maintains.

The text of the CTIA's voluntary commitments can be found on its website ( download PDF).

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows phone in Computerworld's Windows Phone Topic Center.

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