Kill switches for lost or stolen phones make a lot of sense, and they are now the law in California where starting next July any smartphone sold in the state must come with the ability to render it inoperable under certain conditions. Most users don’t object to this because it means their precious data and apps won’t fall into the wrong hands in the event their phone leaves theirs.
But one thing the kill switch isn’t used for is completely disabling a phone for non-payment of your cell phone bill. You may be cut off from your carrier’s network if you’re delinquent on payment, but you’d still be able to access your apps, contacts and other content on your phone.
Not so with a so-called kill switch for cars, which has been in the news recently. Car buyers who take out undesirable subprime loans due to the beating their credit rating received since the economic downturn, are being forced to have special devices attached to their cars before they drive off the lot. The additional hardware makes it possible for lenders to remotely disable the vehicle’s ignition in the event of non-payment.
Just a simple mouse click or tap on a mobile app and someone has control over whether your car starts up in the morning or turns into a worthless heap of metal. No more repo man coming to your home or business to take the car away.
In some cases, the kill switch has been enabled on cars whose owners were just a few days behind on payment and left stranded with no way to get their car working again except to fork over the money. Some lenders are even adding GPS units to cars so they can track them in what some would consider a serious breach of privacy.
For a moment, let’s just forget the chilling implications of someone else having full control over your car’s ability to function or not and knowledge of where you are. The car kill switch is taking the idea of the connected car to its scary conclusion. Rather than using technology to enhance the driving experience and improve safety on the road, it’s being used to punish people who already have been beaten down financially. And according to some accounts, cars can and have been shut off while the vehicle was in use, although some manufacturers of the kill switch device claim it can’t be used on a car whose engine is on.
Regardless of the conditions under which the kill switch can be activated, and whether or not drivers get audible and visual warnings that their car will soon be ‘bricked,’ it seems these lenders who are already taking advantage of people with poor credit – most likely by giving them less-than-ideal loan terms and rates – are adding insult to injury by forcing these devices on car buyers.
Let’s just hope mobile operators don’t get any ideas once they get wind of this.