Apple’s Activation Lock security has variable impact on iPhone thefts

Apple introduced Activation Lock as a theft-deterrent measure that would render an iPhone unusable if it were lost or stolen. The technology was included in iOS 7 in order to comply with governmental and law enforcement regulations that aimed to curb the trobling rise in smartphone thefts. Officials believed the smartphone theft rate would plummet if thieves knew they would not be able to resell a stolen phone. Though early reports lauded the success of activation lock in driving down theft rates, a new report by the WSJ paints a less rosy picture of this kill switch technology.

New phone theft data obtained by the Wall Street Journal suggests activation lock is not as powerful of a theft deterrent tool as previously thought. In the six months after activation lock was introduced, theft rates initially fell in many cities, dropping 17 percent in Austin, Texas; 11 percent in Oakland, California; and 38 percent in San Francisco, California. In some cities, the effect was transient with a slight increase in thefts as robberies began to gain steam again. This decrease in robberies was not universal, with some municipalities, such as Seattle, seeing their smartphone theft numbers rise by as much as 32 percent.

This mixed data suggests many thieves are still stealing iPhones, knowing that some phones are not locked or can be sold for other means.

In some cases, criminals have figured out ways to impersonate the true user of a smartphone to revive a disabled phone, according to technologists and other people who work on smartphone theft prevention. Thieves also have learned to immediately turn off a stolen phone to prevent owners or police from tracking its location, police say…

They may be disassembled for parts, resurrected by those who are willing and able, or sold to the unwitting, according to people familiar with the used-phone industry.

Both Apple’s and Google’s latest smartphone models ship with kill switch technology that complies with new laws requiring the theft-deterrent measure be activated on all new phones. With Android and iOS accounting for 96 percent of all new smartphone sales, a growing number of smartphone owners now have phones with the anti-theft technology installed out the door. Do you have activation lock enabled on your phone? Or have you disabled the technology? Has your phone ever been stolen? Let us know in the comments.