Apple and others face questioning over stolen smartphone ‘epidemic’


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.