In recent years, reports of stolen smartphones have surged. As
of last November, it's estimated that as many as 113 smartphones
are lost or stolen just in the United States every minute. The
problem has gotten so bad that New York City actually saw its first
uptick in crime in the last two decades due to the numerous theft
reports -- and Gotham is all the way down at number nine in the
top-10 worst US cities for smartphone thievery. (
Way to go, Philly!
In light of all the snatched
), New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called upon
(OTCMKTS:SSNLF) to increase preventative tactics to reduce crime on
this week, Schneiderman pulled no punches on who he believes needs
to step up. "The companies that dominate this industry have a
responsibility to their customers to fulfill their promises to
ensure safety and security," he said, adding, "This is a
multi-billion-dollar industry that produces some of the most
popular and technologically advanced consumer electronic products
in the world. Surely we can work together to find solutions that
lead to a reduction in violent street crime targeting consumers."
And if that wasn't enough to light a fire under their keisters,
Schneiderman insinuated a disincentive for the tech giants to
retrieve stolen smartphones. "I would be especially concerned if
device theft accrues to your financial benefit through increased
sales of replacement devices."
While the fact that the New York Attorney General appears to be
looking out for past and future victims of theft is certainly
admirable, it's rendered almost completely moot considering not
only how many "Find my Phone"-type apps exist, but how most police
departments drag their flat feet when it comes to retrieving stolen
First off, let's look at these locator apps themselves. Find My
iPhone and Find My Phone already exist as default software for the
iPhone and Windows Phone, and Android has a wealth of third party
apps like Android Lost, Where's My Droid, and Plan B to track and
remotely lock or wipe devices. So, preventative software exists and
is readily available for users to install.
On top of this,
(TMUS) all maintain a database of stolen phone serial numbers and
will not activate a device that matches one of those numbers. Of
course, this registry does not exist for non-US carriers, which
allows for international black markets to still benefit from stolen
phones and is one of the matters that Schneiderman calls the tech
giants out on.
But wait a sec, what about the men and women in blue? Don't they go
searching for the stolen phones when GPS tracking information is
Nope. Not always.
In a major metropolitan city like New York, chasing after a stolen
smartphone ranks somewhere between investigating a car alarm and
getting a cat down from a tree on a precinct's priority list.
(Anyone who's had a car radio stolen in Brooklyn -- like myself,
three separate times in as many years -- already knows how
motivated a cop can be with stolen electronics.)
A year ago, Berkeley Police Review vice chairman Michael Sherman
put it bluntly
: "If your cell phone was stolen or my cell phone was stolen, I
don't think any officer would be investigating it. They have more
important things to do."
He's not wrong. Barely a month goes by where we don't read an
account of how a victim of theft has to go full-vigilante after
cops refuse to investigate a stolen smartphone, even when a
blinking red dot on a Google Map -- courtesy of a pre-installed
smartphone tracker -- is staring at them right in the face. It's
one thing to feel helpless and hopeless in the wake of a crime,
it's quite another to feel like you have no other choice but to
enter a potentially lethal situation and face an attacker because
authorities refuse to help.
Of all people, the Attorney General of New York should already know
there is absolutely no way to fully prevent the theft of expensive
electronics. If a mugger sees a shiny, glowing screen in the hand
of someone physically unimposing or simply not paying attention,
he's going to take it. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung all
have software available to track, wipe, and/or disable a device
should this occur, and the major carriers have serial numbers on
hand to prevent someone else from activating it on their networks.
Beyond that, there isn't much more that can be done on the tech
But there's a hell of a lot more that can be done on the municipal
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