First Apple and Samsung were sent an angry letter by New York’s Attorney General over efforts to curb growing thefts of smartphones.

Now the state’s top prosecutor wants a face-to-face meeting next week with representatives from Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft, saying they must find a way to solve what’s being described as an “epidemic”.

“It’s time for manufacturers to be as innovative in solving this problem as they have been in designing devices that have reshaped how we live,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday. But can handset makers really create such an effective kill-switch that would disable phones and cut thefts?

The crisis for local law enforcement agencies is shown in statistics from the FCC showing thefts of mobile phones now account for almost 40 percent of robberies in cities.

Case in point: some 1.6 million smartphones were stolen in the U.S. last year. At one point, the NYPD had to create a special unit aptly named iTheft  to combat the increase in phone-thefts.

Although none of the four companies invited to the pow-wow – Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft – commented on the Attorney General’s statement, there’s little chance they’ll blow off his concern. As New York State Attorney General, Schneiderman can sue firms for violating laws against deceptive practices.


In his letter last week to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the state’s chief law enforcer said the company “may have failed to live up to” representations that the iPhone maker was doing all it can to prevent handset thefts.

Schneiderman wrote in his letter to the Apple CEO:

I seek to understand why companies that can develop sophisticated handheld electronics, such as the products manufactured by Apple, cannot also create technology to render stolen devices inoperable and thereby eliminate the expanding black market on which they are sold.

But can Apple or the other smartphone makers actually do more?

According to the Huffington Post, Schneiderman along with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon question whether a current data-sharing arrangement between the four top U.S. wireless providers is enough.

Both men said “that thieves can get around it [the sharing of stolen phone info] by trafficking stolen phones overseas.”

Instead, Gascon is seeking phone makers install a so-called kill switch in phones making the devices worthless to thieves, though he described a meeting with Apple CEO Cook as “very underwhelming.”

Find My iPhone 2.0.1 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 003)Find My iPhone 2.0.1 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 005)

Both Apple and Samsung have dedicated services which let people locate their lost or stolen devices on a world map. In the case of Apple, its Find My iPhone service supports iOS devices and Macs, also allowing users to remotely wipe a device.

Though the wiping procedure deletes all content and as such is different from rendering the unit totally unusable, it does help protect one’s private information from the prying eyes.

Apple could push the envelope on theft protection with the next iPhone, which is understood to incorporate fingerprint scanning under the Home button for secure and seamless user authentication. Such a device could theoretically refuse to operate and even reset itself if picked by a non-authorized user.

  • Dani Hayes

    If only the state attorney was this tough on wall st.

  • Jonathan

    a start would be that when you turn off location services, it doesn’t turn off find my iPhone and when the phone receives a request for its location from FMi it powers on the GPS without the user noticing. also a seperate password to turn the phone off (so that even if someone sees you enter you lock screen password they can’t turn the device off. and holding the home and lock button should kill the springboard rather than completely turn it off and on.

    also I think all cellular networks on the planet need to agree that any device can use tiny amounts of data for free (and by tiny I mean just enough to transmit a location)

    • iBanks

      A simple hold of the power button and home button until iTunes logo pops up to force a restore will overcome this. They must maintain the ability to reboot the device if the device was to ever freeze.

      • While I free with this comment there is no reason why Apple couldn’t NYC findmyiphone and its settings every time a restore occurs so even if a device is setup as new findmyiphone will still be available…

  • iBanks

    I’d recommend an iGotYa or iCaughtYou feature to be implemented by default.

  • Apple already had all it takes to prevent thefts since the first officially-limited iPhone was unveiled; its registration system. All they have to do is cut back on their greed and utilize it, which I doubt they’ll do as it has the potential to reduce iPhone sales….they’re far from doing all they can to prevent thefts.

    • Re. the “potential to reduce iPhone sales”. This is a bad argument. It’s not like millions of iPhones are getting stolen every year. Even if it was a million iPhones, that wouldn’t impact Apple’s bottom line. That’s the equivalent of a drop of water in the ocean for Apple, so I think this argument is just wrong to begin with.

      • “that wouldn’t impact Apple’s bottom line”. That is the point fanboy. Missing 1M iPhone sales a year is the potential cost to Apple for implementing such customer oriented service. That’s only slap on the wrist to Apple’s 40M/year sale, so why don’t they cut back on their greed and implement the service?

      • Surprise, they actually listened….

  • Andres L.

    I just can´t understand why apple doesn´t make a huge database listing every IMEI that is on every national blacklist.

    I can understand that this will require some sort of modifications when Apple is selling their Idevices in every market but, you always need to connect your iphone, ipad, etc. to iTunes so, why Apple doesn´t install an IMEI validation when you connect your iphone? This feature will be one time only when you connect your device to one computer or mac and that is registered with your Apple ID. If you try to make a clean install or connect it to another computer or you sell it, then it will make the IMEI verification again.

    I find this alternative easy, and if the idevice is blacklisted, then it´s fully blocked.

    Yes, you can try to restore it, but it will block again, and again and again. Perhaps this won´t make smartphone robbery dissapear, but everyone will think twice before robbing a smartphone again.

    Finally we have to remember that the security of everyone or their belongings is a combined effort. We can´t leave all the job to the companies alone.

  • Jerry

    love how the guy in the picture with handcuffs is black LOL

  • quitcherbichinn

    Sprint already has a way of preventing theft and i assume, since Verizon uses the same tech that they can as well. it was really simple…people came in and stated their phone was lost or stolen…i went into the system and flagged it as such, which put a freeze on the IMEI so it couldn’t be activated unless picture ID proof from the account owner was provided. GSM doesn’t do this because any phone you put the sim in becomes your phone. that’s something that GSM using companies need to create and implement or just implement if it already exists. i don’t think this is Apple’s, Google’s, or Microsoft’s job.

    • John

      All carriers do this but the problem is if you send that stollen phone to another country it will work, since carriers don’t share their list of stollen/list IMEI numbers internationally.
      I know first hand as i used to ‘trade’ in stollen goods before i had a son.

      • quitcherbichinn

        that’s definitely an aspect i didn’t take into consideration. i’m still not sure i believe it is the role/job of the manufacturer to make something theft proof because where does it end? cars get stolen, houses get robbed…i think the NYS attorney general is a bit high in this expectation.

  • Aubrey James

    Since when are phone sellers responsible for preventing theft of phones after the point of sale?? The AG is beng a jackass!