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Apple's new Activation Lock for iOS 7  (Source:
Apple is already on it with iOS 7's new Activation Lock

San Francisco and New York City are looking to drop the rate of smartphone thefts in their respective cities by launching a new initiative today.

The cities are pushing the new Secure Our Smartphones Initiative today, which aims to approach smartphone companies about possible methods for killing the stolen smartphone market. They're also announcing a new nationwide coalition consisting of police, prosecutors, political officials and consumer advocates.

The new initiative will be launched by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who will hold a summit in NYC today with representatives of Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft to talk about mobile theft.

"The epidemic of violent street crime involving the theft and resale of mobile devices is a very real and growing threat in communities all across America," Schneiderman said. "According to reports, roughly 113 smartphones are stolen or lost each minute in the United States, with too many of those thefts turning violent."

One of the possible actions that the cities will suggest to tech companies will be a type of kill switch. This would render the stolen smartphone useless to thieves. 

Smartphone theft is a major problem in both of these cities as well as the rest of the U.S. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 1 in 3 robberies across the country are mobile phone-related. 

Back in April of this year, reports circulated about San Francisco's use of sting operations to tackle iPhone theft. San Francisco police officers said nearly half of all robberies in the city involved smartphones last year, and most ended up at a popular street corner where the phones were resold: Seventh and Market Street. 

The police officers dress more "streetlike" in a hoodie, jeans and sneakers and walk the streets of San Francisco with a bag of "stolen" iPhones to sell (the iPhones are actually borrowed from Apple for the purpose of the sting operations). He tells potential customers he has iPhones for sale, freshly stolen from the Apple Store, and that they should make him an offer (typically $25-$200). Buyers look the iPhones over to make sure they work, and once agreeing to the deal, offer the undercover cops cash. They accept, and give fellow police officers (who are parked down the street) a signal to make an arrest. 

Apple recently announced at WWDC that its upcoming version of its mobile operating system, iOS 7, will have a new feature called Activation Lock. This prevents thieves from being able to turn off the "Find My iPhone" feature (which allows users to locate their iPhone no matter where it is). Also, if the thief tries to wipe the iPhone, it can't be reactivated because doing so requires the user's iCloud username and password. 

"We are appreciative of the gesture made by Apple to address smartphone theft. We reserve judgment on the activation lock feature until we can understand its actual functionality," Gascon and Schneiderman said in a joint written statement.

Source: Yahoo News

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By bill.rookard on 6/13/2013 2:21:28 PM , Rating: 1
Well, maybe from a certain perspective I guess I do get it...

But - each phone has it's distinct identifier (IMEI) otherwise multiple people would have their phones ringing when they dialed their friends. How difficult would it REALLY be to have a process by which each carrier had access to a master database which could be queried before activating a 'self brought' phone? Add 1 cent to everyone's cell phone bill each month to maintain it and/or provide for hosting?

Someone gets their phone stolen, they go to the store, report it stolen, lock the IMEI code, then whomever stole the phone is S.O.L. as it's forever flagged as unable to be registered. That would reduce theft in and of itself to probably nothing in no time flat.

Sure, it could be disassembled and sold for parts (chassis, screen etc), but that would reduce the potential pool of thieves as some of these phones are pretty hard to strip down - only the truly technical and relatively intelligent ones would be capable of it.

By av911 on 6/13/2013 3:23:29 PM , Rating: 2
Blocking an IMEI only prevents them from registering on a cell network, the phone is still fully functional, otherwise. But remote killing the phone, I assume the phone would be completely useless, no functions AT ALL.

By Samus on 6/14/2013 4:01:09 AM , Rating: 2
And most stolen phones end up leaving the country. Many carriers in other countries could care less if the IMEI is banned on a few US carriers because even if they had access to that database, they really don't benefit from banning it. In essence, carriers benefit from stolen devices.

By theapparition on 6/13/2013 3:29:23 PM , Rating: 4
Verizon already does this through ESN. That's why it's important to verify a used Verizon phone's ESN before buying.

While phones with typical SIM cards can be very convenient, they also have the drawback that anyone can steal them and use them right away. With Verizon phones, that can't happen.

However, there are tools available that will change a phones IMEI and ESN. Yes, it's illegal to do, but so is it illegal to steal a phone. So in the end, I don't think either method provides much protection.

By DrizztVD on 6/13/2013 4:16:21 PM , Rating: 2
You know where the real problem is? It's that there's a whole bunch of A-holes who continue buying stolen goods. They never stop to think that A) the phone may very well have been stolen with physical force and B) they are allowing the thief to go another day using violence to steal more phones.

It's very easy to spot a stolen phone. If it's sold on a street corner? - Stolen.

If it's sold under it's market-value - it's stolen.

The real criminals are the buyers in the end who just think of their own gain to everyone else's detriment. Without them 99 percent of the problem would go away.

By Stan11003 on 6/13/2013 4:48:25 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps when they go on craigs and ebay they don't know it's stolen.

By BifurcatedBoat on 6/13/2013 6:59:02 PM , Rating: 2
Well, that depends. Maybe the person selling it is upgrading to a new phone. Maybe - if it's new, and an older model - it's surplus inventory.

By fredgiblet on 6/15/2013 4:52:43 PM , Rating: 2
"Sold on a street corner"

The 90s called, they want their problems back.

"Sold under market value"

Or it could be a legitimate owner looking to ditch a phone they don't want, or someone who got a shipment for cheap (Perhaps a subsidized shipment from someone looking to gain marketshare, or overstock from a retailer that doesn't have room.

By Basilisk on 6/13/2013 4:28:36 PM , Rating: 2
Which brings up a Q I've long had: while SIM cards do link the physical phone to its carrier & owner, don't these phones also have a unique device-identifier (an IMEI) which the carrier can access should it choose? Or is the IMEI only accessible to apps (when permitted)? I thought both IMEI and MEID could be used to identify stolen devices.

Seems odd that the IMEI and MEID aren't programmed into write-once (burnt fuses?) memory [using checksums/encryption that prevent getting a new ID by flipping a few more bits].

By Lord 666 on 6/13/2013 6:17:36 PM , Rating: 2
With LTE, VZW introduced SIM cards as well. A sewing needle is all that is needed to pop out the SIM caddy taking the device off net.

By Solandri on 6/13/2013 4:23:16 PM , Rating: 2
But - each phone has it's distinct identifier (IMEI) otherwise multiple people would have their phones ringing when they dialed their friends. How difficult would it REALLY be to have a process by which each carrier had access to a master database which could be queried before activating a 'self brought' phone?

My hunch is the carriers don't want to do it because they don't want to get involved in figuring out if a phone was actually stolen. Was it really you who reported your phone as stolen, or was it your BFF playing a joke on you? What if you report your phone stolen, then embarrassingly find it in the pocket of your other jacket, and call them saying it was your BFF playing a joke who reported it stolen? What if an actual thief calls them with the same story?

It just opens up a huge can of worms for them in terms of liability, and proof of responsibility. Easier (for them) just to allow all phones, and let the customers and police deal with theft.

By lightfoot on 6/14/2013 12:32:36 AM , Rating: 2
In addition there is no incentive for the carrier to track it. If your phone is stolen, you have to buy a new unsubsidized one (or you've already paid them for the insurance) so the carrier (and handset maker) profits. Also who ever now has the stolen phone now needs to buy service for that phone, and there are only a limited number of carriers that can support each device. Again the carrier wins; they don't even need to subsidize the stolen device.

Carriers profit enormously from theft. Why would they want to stop that?

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton
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