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DA to Apple: Make iPhone's Activation Lock the rule

San Francisco's district attorney argues that a majority of users in the city already enable Apple's lost phone security feature, so why is it just optional?

If your iPhone gets stolen and Find My Phone has been deactivated, Activation Lock will prevent it from being reused by a different Apple account.
James Martin/CNET

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón released survey results Wednesday that he says makes an argument for Apple to enable its Activation Lock security feature on every phone.

George Gascón

When enabled, Activation Lock -- which is available for iOS 7 users and requires them to activate the "Find my Phone" tracking feature -- prevents the unauthorized resetting of an iPhone or iPad. Gascon's survey indicated that 78 percent of respondents who owned an iPhone have enabled the security feature. According to him, it's an indication that Apple should enable this technology on all of its phones as a standard.

"Apple should be commended for leading the way and making efforts to safeguard their customers, but it is still too early to tell how effective their solution will be," Gascon said in a statement. "Until Activation Lock is fully opt-out, it appears many iPhone owners will not have the solution enabled. This leaves iPhone users at risk as thieves cannot distinguish between those devices that have the feature enabled and those that do not."

Approximately 313 people, mainly from the San Francisco Bay Area, responded to the survey between November 4 and November 19. It found that 90 percent of respondents owned iPhones and 84 percent of respondents who owned an iPhone have iOS 7 and enabled the Find My iPhone feature.

The survey results are part of a renewed push to enable a "kill switch" feature on all smartphones. Also proposed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the security feature lets carriers send a message to stolen smartphones that would make them inoperable. Carriers, so far, have resisted adding the feature, saying that it carries too many privacy and hacking risks.

But Gascon and Schneiderman argue that a kill switch would be an important deterrent when combating the rise of smartphone thefts.

According to Gascon's office, one in three thefts in the US involves a mobile communication device. In 2012, more than 50 percent of robberies in San Francisco were because of mobile devices. In New York, the number was 20 percent, a 40 percent increase from 2011.