New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Motorola Mobility to work with his office toward curbing smartphone thefts. In a letter to each, Schneiderman criticized the companies for potentially failing to meet security promises that they make to consumers. He believes that each of the five have overly emphasized data security to the detriment of device security, and suggested that the companies ought to be able to develop technology that would make a stolen device inoperable, and therefore of minimal use on the black market.
Does theft benefit manufacturers?
Smartphone theft has been a big concern in New York City, which last year saw its first increase in crime in the last two decades due to a massive increase in iPhones being stolen. In his letters, Schneiderman offered the companies little courtesy when suggesting that their efforts have been paltry. "I would be especially concerned if device theft accrues to your financial benefit through increased sales of replacement devices," he wrote. The letters request that each of the four companies brief his office on its current antitheft efforts, as well as offer help to his office in finding and developing solutions to the rising crime issue.
Schneiderman has also enlisted the assistance of Lookout, a developer of security software for Android devices. Lookout's interest in promoting antitheft development measures is perhaps self-serving, but Schneiderman writes that the company's knowledge of mobile security will be of use to his office. It isn't clear what type of solution the Attorney General's office is looking for, but certain antitheft measures are already in place from wireless carriers and phone manufacturers — they just may not be helping.
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile share the serial number of stolen phones and refuse to activate them. But this registry of numbers doesn't extend to carriers outside of the US, allowing the phones to retain their value overseas. Apple and Microsoft both offer tools to locate, lock, and wipe their devices remotely, but they have their limitations — thieves may be able to disable the security before a user can get to another device to enable them. And while third-party solutions are available on Android, Google has yet to include an official tool to remotely find or wipe a lost device.