Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung pressed to combat smartphone theft

“New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pushing makers of handsets and wireless operating system software to do more to combat the exploding theft of smartphones, as mobile operators work on a global database of stolen devices that could help tame the outbreak,” Thomas Gryta reports for The Wall Street Journal.

“In letters sent to Apple Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Samsung Electronics that were released Monday, Mr. Schneiderman asked the companies what they were doing to combat ‘this growing public safety problem,'” Gryta reports. “As Mr. Schneiderman reaches out to device and software makers, wireless carriers are simultaneously working on a database to help block the use of stolen phones on their network. In the U.S., most carriers have individual databases, but the industry struck a deal last year with the Federal Communications Commission to create a unified national database for stolen devices. That database, expected to be live by November, will connect to lists from other countries to help defuse the problem outside of the U.S. where many used and stolen smartphones are exported.”

Gryta reports, “Wireless phones that have been reported stolen to the carrier will be listed in the database using unique serial numbers associated with mobile gadgets. The carriers will block listed phones from accessing carrier networks for voice and data service… In the letters, Mr. Schneiderman said he sought to understand why companies that can develop sophisticated technology ‘cannot also create technology to render stolen devices inoperable and thereby eliminate the expanding black market on which they are sold.’ …Apple for several years has offered ‘Find My iPhone,’ free software that can help locate and remotely erase an Apple product from over the Web, among other things. Apple also offers a companion app so customers can track a lost or stolen device using another iPhone or iPad.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple already provides a way to track devices and flag them as lost or stolen, allowing users to lock them with passcodes. What else do you want Apple to do, frequent doughnut shops?

Related articles:
Theft of Apple iPhone sets off a cinematic high-speed chase – May 5, 2013
The New York Times tries to blame Apple for smartphone thefts – May 2, 2013
iTheft busters: NYPD forms dedicated team to catch iPhone and iPad thieves – February 22, 2013
Thanks to Apple’s ‘Find My iPad,’ California police arrest Christmas present thief – December 27, 2011
Apple’s ‘Find My iPhone’ helps find wreckage of Chilean plane crash – September 7, 2011
Find My iPhone! Hampshire binmen save iPhone after rubbish error – January 13, 2011
Mugging victim uses Apple’s ‘Find My iPhone’ to track robbers – August 31, 2009
NYC thieves want iPhones, victims are fighting back with tech like Apple’s ‘Find My iPhone’ – July 2, 2009


  1. What a good idea MDN!
    Might I add that instead of jam, you recommend Apple filled doughnuts instead?
    Only don’t encourage the vendors to take a bite out each doughnut before selling it! 🙂

  2. Speaking of cops and doughnut shops brings to mind the great Peter Falk playing Detective Columbo for 32 years. His tag line was “There’s one more thing…”. This was delivered just as the (usually smug and rich) perpetrator was about to get away with murder…

    In his keynotes, Steve Jobs used the same tag line, with similar dramatic results, particularly in the stock market and in the pants of the competition.

  3. Except this is New York. Perhaps they should just ban smartphones? Or maybe determine which phones are too smart and legislate dumbing down of said phones because they are the best judges of how smart a phone should be. People don’t need their phones to be that smart. Who needs that much smartness in a phone? A phone that is too smart is too attractive to criminals and is there for, as the AG says, a safety hazard.

    The doughnut idea won’t work because smirky Apple might report to the New York AG that the vast majority of doughnuts in NY seem to have the center missing and their might be a correlation and the Mayor might ban doughnuts.

    Perhaps Apple should ask for all the data they have on the thefts to perform a quantitative “big data” analysis of the thefts to determine the underlying sociological causes.

    Upon discovering a fundamental deterioration in the generally acceptable behavior, character, conduct, and manners of the people, Apple could explain that cultural devolution, lack of responsibility, and the desire to blame objects for crime rather than criminals contributes to a climate in which people feeling they are entitled to things rather than earning them? Oh wait, that’s progressivism. That’ll never fly.

    No matter what, I smell another New York Times hit piece coming on concerning Apple endangering the people with their technology.

  4. I know! I know! Make them uglier, and make them fail more often, and make the apps malfunction all the time! That oughta keep those thieves from stealing them!

  5. I found an iPhone in the road on a bike ride this weekend, put it in my pouch, got home and had the owner within minutes of going to her Contacts and calling the likeliest of entries, “Dad”.

    Wouldn’t have happened if she had had it password locked.

    1. Use an app to easily add ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact info on your lockscreen image. You keep ability to password-protect your phone, and no need to guess who to call if contacts aren’t obviously identified as family.

      Only way this could be improved is if you could actually set one or two contacts or at least labelled numbers that could be pulled up while in Emergency Call mode.

  6. The problem that Schneiderman wants addressed is not addressed in this article, which is sad because the NYT identified it in earlier articles. Whatever junior writer wrote this needs to talk more often to their co-workers.

    It’s the fact that that the thief’s are wiping away all the data and then immediately selling it overseas where the identification of the phone is not kept. Find My iPhone only works when the phone is on.
    New York State is urging apple, samsung, verizon, AT&T and everyone who manufactures a phone and carriers that phone identification be unified and to stop the phone working, once confirmed to be stolen. A hard wired identification that can not be erased as easily as it is now.
    This would decrease the theft on smart phones, because the market overseas would be dry.

    1. As Mark has said, FindMyiPhone only works when the phone is on and connected to the network.

      The first thing a smart thief does is to switch off the phone and remove the SIM card, at that point they can no longer be tracked. I think that Apple should make it impossible to switch off a locked phone and should devise a way to allow the iPhone to still have minimal functionality after a SIM card has been removed without unlocking the iPhone so that the legal owner can still trace the phone. Similarly, a replacement SIM should not be allowed to become active unless the iPhone was unlocked when it was changed.

      The issue of blocking stolen phones being re-activated elsewhere isn’t solely down to manufacturers. In order to work, it would need a reliable global database of stolen phones and that would need international collaboration from governments and law enforcement agencies.

      Locked iPhones should also optionally have a simple function accessible from the lock screen, so that an honest person finding that phone can find a contact point ( not a home address, just another phone number or e-mail ) in order to return that phone to it’s rightful owner. Furthermore, Apple retail stores should accept found iPhones and arrange to contact the legitimate owner to arrange it’s return, maybe with an option for the owner to anonymously reward the finder.

      1. “I think that Apple should make it impossible to switch off a locked phone”

        I agree this should be done, but you can get around this simply by putting the phone in a Farraday cage for up to a day. If it’s not in Airplane mode, the phone will drain the battery pretty quickly trying to find a cell network to connect to.

        Maybe only sophisticated thieves would know to do this, but those are the ones sending them overseas. Thieves selling locally would be subject to domestic carrier’s databases of stolen phones, identified by unique hardware IMEI numbers (though like a computer’s MAC address, it’s apparently possible to change them on at least some phones).

  7. also, as a followup, the numerous articles about police using Find My iPhone and tracking thiefs down around the corner with the stolen product is making the thiefs smarter….

  8. MacDailyNews could’ve been a little smarter in their reply. Find My Phone Only works on a phone that’s on. All Apple has to do is PIN block a phone from being turned off.

    Also block hard resets and phone wipes with the PIN unless taken to an Apple store for a $25 pin reset fee.

    If pins need to be longer to be hacked less quickly, increase the digits.

    1. HTC just learned that the reverse is not true: Having a paucity of something doesn’t guarantee it will be so desirable as to attract the criminal element! 😉

  9. And I want to know what the manufacturers of desireable cars, flat screen TVs and diamonds are doing to combat the theft of the items the manufacture and sell!

    1. Also build the largest known database for fingerprints. Connect the lines on the finger and place a name to the prints.

      Ummmm… Can one see the government drool?

  10. My family in Australia has lost three iPhones to theft in the last five years. These were definitely stolen, not lost. Each time Find My iPhone has been useless as they have never been switched back on. We have reported the theft each time to our telecom and the phone is then blocked nationally using the phone’s unique IMEI code. They are presumably wiped and sold overseas, as currently these IMEI databases are not internationally linked. Doing so will be a major step in reducing what is clearly organised crime at work.

    1. She be right mate, that’s just Anustralia’s healthy disrespect for the law. Eliminating the culture on that putrid island would be not only a deterrent to crime but an advancement to world peace.

      Oi Oi Oi.

  11. When my daughter’s iPhone was stolen, the thieves just switched the sim card, so it never showed up with find my iPhone. I asked Apple and AT&T to list the iPhone serial number (not the SIM card) as stolen so the thieves couldn’t just but a new card in it and keep using it with AT&T.
    Apple and AT&T both told me that there was nothing they could do about that.

    I’m sure my daughter’s iPhone is back on AT&T’s service with whoever ended up with it.

  12. MDN says: Apple already provides a way to track devices and flag them as lost or stolen, allowing users to lock them with passcodes. What else do you want Apple to do, frequent doughnut shops?

    I see this as a lurking motivation to push humanity toward THE SINGULARITY whereby all our tech gear is embedded into our skulls. Not good. Ray Kurzweil can shove it.

    But the scary singularity idea certainly solves the stolen smartphone problem. Instead, we’ll have an accelerated rate of kidnapping, aka technapping. 😉

  13. I have absolutely no desire to make phones trackable when turned off. The iPhone does not have a removable battery. If it were redesigned to be trackable when the iPhone is off then someone (government, hacker, etc.) could track my movements wherever I am so long as I have it with me — either that or I put it into a copper sleeve in my pocket.

    Yes, I have some minimal concerns about the government tracking me without my permission or knowledge or even a court order. However, as with the RFID issues with credit cards and passports, etc. there will be issues with a phone broadcasting its position and identity even when supposedly “off”. If this comes to pass there will be a proliferation of cell phone “cases” that are RF blocking just like there is a significant market for wallets and purses that are RF blocking.

    The solution is to get the police to do their jobs. Make stealing a phone more painful than it is profitable.

  14. Offer a firearm with each iPhone purchase and call it “More Bang for Your Buck!” promotion.

    Besides, isn’t stealing illegal in NY? It is? Maybe NY needs to be doing more with these lawbreakers.

    Another “There’s no there, there.” when it comes to the NY AG!

  15. Seems many here forget about what other industries are forced to do to minimize theft and/or maximize chance of recovery. Such anti-theft overkill is driven by the insurance companies more than the end consumer (non-paranoid consumers, that is).

    If Apple has the technological capability of reducing theft risk, how can anyone with a conscience advocate that Apple not make efforts to offer that value to their user community?

  16. Takes the governor to get businesses to cooperate…

    Anyway. I think Apple is doing allot with find my iPhone. Has probably solved more cases than law enforcement alone since 1897. And of course Goosung wasn’t far behind in copying this feature into their plastic devices.

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