There has been a recent spate of articles about lost smartphones. ArsTechnica talks about what you could lose if you lost your smartphone. BoingBoing talks about that and also about ways to protect yourself:

–Always protect your phone with a password or a “draw to unlock” pattern.

–Use security software designed specifically for smartphones to lock up programs on your phone. Some of these programs can be used to help locate the phone, or to wipe its memory from remote locations.

–Don’t lose your cell phone. This falls under the category of “Well, duh.” Nobody loses a smartphone on purpose, obviously. But try to make sure you keep it in you pocket or purse when not in use.

–Companies that issue phones to their employees should make sure to train workers on security, and should secure every phone with passwords.

The last time I lost a smartphone, it was at a movie theater. It had fallen out of my holster (an usher found it and I got it back). Because of that, and a few instances of it jumping out of the holster as I ran, I stopped using that particular holster with that particular phone. That, more or less, sums up my idea of “security.” Wiping a phone from a remote location might become an option, if more sensitive information ends up on my phone. But those locks are a pain in the posterior. Also, as someone points out, how is someone supposed to return the phone to you (if they are so inclined) if they don’t have any information? Well, you can incessantly call the phone, but it actually makes me wonder why contact information isn’t left on the Lock screen. Can anyone think of a reason not to do this? Also, in case of an emergency, where you are not conscious, people can use your phone to contact an ICE number.

These are the rationalizations I use to avoided the dreaded lock screen.

I did want to address something written a while ago at Forbes and that I have seen written over and over again elsewhere. The question of why we don’t expect cell phone carriers to help find lost phones, even though they could:

In short, Nevius notes that carriers in some other places – Australia, for instance – maintain a joint database of mobile phone serial numbers. When a number is reported stolen, the phone is rendered inoperative. That’s not what the U.S. carriers do. They focus on remote wiping, and making SIM cards invalid. But Nevius notes that thieves can simply replace the bad SIM cards with new ones. And he points out that when phones are stolen, carriers benefit as consumer buy replacement phones.

The piece opens with the words “prepare to get angry,” but my anger (to the extent that I have any) is actually directed at the author and people saying what the author is saying. We do not want to make cell phone carriers to do this. While it might be nice if they did… once we place this burden on them (whether by statute or expectation) we are giving them the justification they need to do bad things. Do you know what’s cheaper than helping someone find their lost phone? Refusing to activate phones that they don’t sell you. AT&T and T-Mobile, to their credit, will activate any phone. Verizon and Sprint, however, do not. Even phones that would work on their network. They will only let you activate a phone that they improve. They publicly talk of it as quality assurance, but it’s also a good way to force people to buy phones. Well, with this, we could force us to buy phones from them. The secondary cell phone market allows people to buy cheap phones without signing on to a burdensome contract. Is there any doubt that at least some of the companies would love an excuse to do away with it entirely?

Granted, you could pass a regulation that forces carriers to find lost phones and forbids them from refusing to activate phones that they didn’t sell you, but that might require an act of congress. And if it doesn’t, the fact that nobody who is harping on the carriers has even mentioned the possibility of the above paragraph suggests to me that they are thinking too narrowly and wouldn’t think such a regulation through, throwing the carriers into a briar patch.

Category: Market

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3 Responses to Lost Smartphones

  1. Abel Keogh says:

    The software company I work for sells a product that allows the company to wipe a company phone if it’s lost or stolen. You can’t “track” the phone but as long as it’s connected to a network you can find it and wipe it.

  2. Abel Keogh says:

    It also makes me wonder if consumers would be willing to pay for this technology too.

  3. trumwill says:

    Yeah, the remote wipe thing isn’t a bad idea. I think there are vendors for such a thing (though I’m not sure if there are for Windows Mobile 6).

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