Smartphones Lost, Stolen . . . Numbers Keep Rising . . . It’s “Apple Picking” Time
A word to the wise.
Independent observers, such as the mobile security firm Lookout, have been warning us: The theft of smartphones and other mobile devices is rising alarmingly. Coupled with accidental loss, the number in the U.S. is now roughly thirteen stolen or lost every minute. (This number does not even include those owned by Americans overseas – a figure which itself is also rapidly increasing.)
Early on, Apple devices were (and are) the primary target for thieves because they have the greatest black market value. The thefts were so frequent that police coined the term “Apple Picking.” Now, for example, the “apples” also include Android, Samsung and others..
In short, roughly 1.6 million Americans were victims of smartphone-related crime in the U.S. in 2012. According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) numbers, approximately 30-40 percent of all robberies in major cities now involve mobile devices. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman summed it up: “All too often these robberies turn violent. There are assaults, there are murders.”
There is no doubt an international crime component is heavily involved: Once stolen, the devices are redistributed to buyers as far away as Hong Kong. As the world gets more and more “wired,” the global black market for these stolen devices knows no borders. Needless to say, threats to individual security are also extremely elevated. (These threats include identity theft, credit card fraud and bank fraud, to name but a few.)
What’s intriguing about these statistics is the absence of one thing – a safeguard, a “kill switch” feature which would render these devices inoperable when lost or stolen. For a long time manufactures such as Apple, Microsoft, Google and Samsung have resisted queries or pressures to install a “kill switch” feature. The manufacturers have been accused of not cooperating because of simple financial interest.
The criticism boils down to two points: (1) A “kill switch” would undercut the value of stolen gadgets now trading on a global black market, and (2) a stolen phone or other mobile device generates new business as crime victims buy replacements. (The Lookout study concludes that replacing lost or stolen cell phones now costs American consumers roughly $30 billion per year.)
A coalition of attorneys general and state officials from six states (including New York and California), district attorneys and high-level police officials from eight major cities (including New York City and San Francisco) and consumer advocacy groups have announced an initiative – “Save Our Smartphones.”
Headed by Mr. Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, this coalition is meeting with the major manufacturers. It has one message: Make it easier to disable lost or stolen smartphones and other mobile devices. Make disabling a smartphone as easy as cancelling a credit card.
The “kill switch” automatically reduces theft and violent crime in the U.S., said Mr. Schneiderman. (The kill switch” would also be a deterrent to the influence of international crime in the U.S.: Take away a smartphone’s resale value and that ripple effect would affect the global black market.)
As might be expected, smartphone manufacturers have been less than enthusiastic. However, “We [the coalition] are not going away,” Mr. Schneiderman stated bluntly.
The coalition’s hope is to have the “kill switch” feature operational by 2014.
— Stephen Heath-Jones