American Officials Call on Smartphone Makers to Combat “Apple-picking”

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New York’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney met yesterday with leading technology representatives from Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and Microsoft to devise a plan for combating increased smartphone-related thefts. “It is totally unacceptable that we have an epidemic of crime that we believe can be eliminated if the technological fixes that we believe are available are put into place,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

Schneiderman and San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascon – along with a team of state officials, police chiefs, and consumer advocacy groups – will co-chair a committee dubbed the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative. They called on the major smartphone manufacturers to make disabling lost or stolen devices easier.

The meeting comes just days after Apple announced its latest operating system, iOS 7, at the company’s annual WWDC event in San Francisco. iOS 7 will include a “kill switch” that prevents a thief from turning off the anti-theft app Find My iPhone. The feature, called Activation Lock, will require an Apple ID and password to deactivate Find My iPhone protection.

In the U.S., smartphone theft accounts for one-third of all robberies nationwide. iPhone thefts have become so commonplace that criminals have begun referring to the act as “Apple-picking.” The Christian Science Monitor reported that “San Francisco police have estimated that half of all thefts in the city involve a mobile device; in New York, the number is closer to 40 percent.”

The sharp increase in smartphone theft in the U.S. may be a result of Americans being less pro-active about safeguarding their phones. Symantec, the maker of Norton Antivirus, surveyed 6,500 adults in 11 different countries in regard to the role smartphones play in their summer music festival experience. North Americans admitted to being the least precautious when it comes to applying passcode locks and installing anti-theft apps.

Additionally, Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, and Mexico ranked smartphones as being the most important item when attending a festival – although respondents from Brazil, China, and Mexico ranked theft as the leading cause of smartphone loss in those countries.

Even with anti-theft measures baked into smartphone operating systems, thieves can still get away with their crime by simply changing SIM cards. Daniel B. Wood explains:

“The kill switch capability already exists, say software industry analysts. It would work by identifying a specific phone that has been stolen and then shutting it down. For such a program to work, though, all the providers would have to be on board, otherwise a thief could just switch carriers to use the phone.”

For iPhone users, you can activate the Find My iPhone feature by tapping Settings, then iCloud. Enable Find My iPhone, then verify that it is working by visiting the iCloud site and clicking the Find My iPhone icon.

Android users can check out these free third-party apps to safeguard their devices: Wheres My Droid and Locate My Droid.

Prey is a viable open-source option for both iOS and Android (as well as laptop computer operating systems).

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