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How an IPhone Update Lowered New York City's Crime Rate

How an IPhone Update Lowered New York City's Crime Rate
Illustration by Braulio Amado

Apple’s iPhones now allow owners to erase data remotely, even if the devices are stolen—a feature that will never generate the excitement of, say, fingerprint scanners or retina displays. But New York’s attorney general credits the iPhone’s new “kill switch” for a seemingly impossible achievement: lowering crime rates in the country’s largest city.

Apple introduced the feature, dubbed Activation Lock, last September, giving someone whose phone is stolen the power to render the device inoperable from afar. In a report published Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman notes that robberies involving Apple products in the five boroughs dropped 19 percent over the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2013. Grand larcenies in New York City dropped 29 percent in that span. Since more than half of grand larcenies in 2013 involved a mobile device—and the overwhelming majority of those devices were Apple products—it seems reasonable to credit the iPhone kill switch with lowering the overall crime rate. (As of June 8, robberies had dropped 9.4 percent across the city this year, while grand larcenies had fallen 1.7 percent.)