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Could smartphone kill switches save consumers billions?

The cell phone kill switch seems like a no-brainer: allow cell phone owners to remotely wipe their devices to prevent personal information from being accessed by scammers. The wireless industry has its doubts, but according to a new study, kill-switch tech could save consumers a ton of money.

According to research from Dr. William Duckworth, a statistics, data science, and analytics professor at Creighton University, a mandatory kill switch for phones could save $2.6 billion (£1.6 billion) annually.

Duckworth surveyed 1,200 smartphone owners, and found that consumers not only support the kill switch, but expect such safeguards to be in place.

"Overall, it seems clear that Americans want the kill switch and that an industry-wide implementation of the technology could significantly improve public safety and save consumers billions of dollars a year," he said in a statement.

Based on Duckworth's survey, Americans spend about $580 million (£349 million) each year replacing stolen phones. They also contribute $4.8 billion (£2.9 billion) paying for premium device insurance. If stolen phones can be bricked immediately, however, there's no incentive for thieves to nab them, keeping consumers safe and saving money on replacement devices on insurance.

"My research suggests that at least half of smartphone owners would in fact reduce their insurance coverage if the kill switch reduced the prevalence of cell phone theft," Duckworth said.

In early February, a group of California lawmakers introduced legislation requiring all smartphones and tablets sold in the state to contain a kill switch. One week later, a US senator introduced her own bill that would require the kill switch technology in an effort to cut down on cell phone thievery.

However, the wireless industry has expressed concern, arguing that kill-switch technology could fall into the wrong hands, while bricked phones could prevent people from calling 911 during an emergency.

At a recent congressional hearing, US mobile providers issued their support for technology that could remotely disable a stolen smartphone, but shied away from voicing support for a bill that would require "kill switch" technology in all mobile devices.

In iOS 7, Apple incorporated Activation Lock — its own type of kill switch — which blocks stolen or lost gadgets from being reactivated without the owner's Apple ID and password. Samsung has also been working on its own option.