NBC Dateline hidden camera investigation tracks Apple iPod thieves

“Frustrated iPod owners are angry, their music taken from them by thieves [that] Dateline caught on hidden camera,” Chris Hansen reports for NBC News.

“Dateline investigates if it’s possible, using some of the same high-tech capabilities that make the iPod the phenomenon it is, to track down people who take iPods that don’t belong to them,” Hansen reports.

“The iPod — it’s everywhere. Originally billed as ‘a thousand songs in your pocket,’ it can now hold up to 20,000 songs, 100 hours of video, 25,000 photos–and with a staggering 110 million sold, the device has become an international icon and in an indispensable part of life,” Hansen reports. “But… if you’ve got to have it, so do thieves.”

“We bought dozens of iPods. These were iPods that we’d use as bait to be stolen — or deliberately lost,” Hansen reports “We hired a software company, Blackfin Tech, to help us. Jefferson Jewell runs Blackfin. His solution? To simply demonstrate whether an iPod has the capability of being tracked, we’d create our own database — just like Apple has.”

“We’d try to get basic information from whoever plugged it in, in this case from people the iPods didn’t belong to,” Hansen reports. How would we get the information? Instead of putting used iPods out as bait, we’d use new ones that were brand new in the box. To a thief, they’d be exactly like the real thing.”

“Except for this: with a new iPod, the first thing you normally do is download Apple iTunes software, which allows you to buy and download music as well as provide basic information about the user to Apple,” Hansen reports.

“To get our bait iPods to work, whoever takes them will have to install a disc. What they won’t know is that when they click ‘I Agree’ on a licensing agreement that appears on-screen, they’ll be consenting to provide some of the same kind of information they provide Apple to Dateline,” Hansen reports.

Find out what happened in the full text article here or watch the video report here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “David” for the heads up.]
Should Apple track down missing iPods for free? Can they even do so for manpower and/or legal reasons? Perhaps, as Newsweek’s Steve Levy suggests in the full piece, Apple could offer such tracking as part of a paid service like AppleCare. In any case, it seems that Apple’s already working on a solution.

In the full article, Hansen also reports that “although Apple declined requests for interviews and comment regarding this report, the company — which consistently ranks at or near the top in customer satisfaction surveys in the tech world — might well turn out to be the hero in our story after all.”

“Why? Just recently came word from the U.S. Patent Office that Apple has applied for a new patent. In its application, Apple confirms that there is a ‘serious problem’ with iPod theft and that iPod owners have been seriously injured or even murdered for their iPods. And the company has proposed an ingenious solution to the problem: essentially, you can’t recharge the iPod or the new iPhone if you can’t prove the device is yours when you hook it up to iTunes,” Hansen reports.


  1. As mentioned if any company does anything to flag stolen ipods it will be Apple. Sure the company does not engage itself to track down the missing or stolen ipods due to legal issues. The dateline NBC segment was very informative. It just proves that the customer expectation bar has been set so high by Apple that the customers do expect that the company help them re-unite with their missing or stolen ipods. Which other company can you expect so much from? Maybe there are some. But I believe Apple will revolutionize the end user experience to find a lost or stolen ipod. I am so sure that the technology is there. It is very flattering for a company to have a customer base that can trust a manufacturer so much because eventually their voices, concerns and feedbacks are heard and answered in a proactive manner even though its in a silent way.

  2. A friend’s wife left her wedding ring on a sink at the local “Y” and, of course, it wasn’t there when she returned. Now, why won’t Zales help her locate it?

    A business associate had his Camry stolen recently on a trip to Tucson, AZ. Why won’t Toyota help him recover it?

    My sister lost her virginity about 20 years ago. Who’s going to get THAT back for her?

  3. The NBC segment portrayed Apple as unwilling to help it’s loyal customers in return.

    How hard can it be to look up a serial number and match it with a new address?

    Apple should do something about it pronto instead of being concerned about losing sales to those loyal customers that are forced to repurchase new ipods to replace their stolen ones only because Apple won’t help just a little.

    The only reason they are now indirectly addressing the issue with a patent is because the public is now aware that Apple denies help to those in need when it would be little effort on their part.
    It is the right thing to do.

    Thank you NBC for shedding light on Apple’s allegiance.

    I don’t want patents, I want action!

  4. This hits close to home

    we have lived in Mexico for 12 years (and love it)

    Our 1st taste of crime was last week, when our 30gb was stolen from our car, in our drive way. in a gated community

    (now I have more reason for an iPhone)

  5. If that’s your first taste of crime in Mexico, you must stay in doors all day, every single day. I lived in Mexico for one year. I was robbed 5 times, had my car SEIZED by the police with no indication as to why, and NEVER got it back. The entire government from top to bottom is the most corrupt I’ve ever experienced and that includes THE FORMER SOVIET UNION!

  6. Oh yeah, this is so very real because most stolen ipods are just left on a bench or in a street. I would suspect more are stolen by carelessness or pickpockets. I mean really……let’s say instead of finding an ipod on the sidewalk you find an ice crisp $100 bill. Are you seriously gonna go looking for the owner of that $100 bill? Most people would call that a lucky day.

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