Apple, Google, others pressed by New York attorney general to help prevent device theft endemic

Apple, Google, others pressed by New York attorney general to help prevent device theft endemic

Summary: New York state's attorney general can't understand why sophisticated smartphones and tablet makers can't kill stolen devices, and is asking the major firms to come up with solutions.

(Image: CNET)

New York state's attorney general wants to know why Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung — the four major players in the software and hardware smartphone space — can't seem to help in the fight against black market device trading.

In four separate, almost identical letters to the four smartphone and platform makers that together account for at least 90 percent of U.S. smartphone sales, Eric Schneiderman asked executives what their companies were doing about the ongoing problem with smartphone and tablet thefts.

He also asked the companies to collaborate with his office to help identify possible solutions that could reduce the economic incentives for theft. 

In one of the letters to Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Schneiderman subtly criticized the iPhone and iPad maker for failing to do more to "develop a comprehensive approach to discourage theft, protect your customers, and fulfil Apple's expressed commitment to 'safety and security by design'," a statement Apple makes on its own website.

Microsoft also took a whipping [PDF] from the state attorney general. In regards to the software giant's stated commitments to "robust security" and suchlike, "Microsoft may have failed to live up to these representations," according to Schneiderman.

"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," he wrote.

Schneiderman, who took office in 2011, reeled out some snippets of crime figures in the state, which of course includes New York City and Manhattan.

He stated that 11,447 cases were reported of stolen iOS-based devices to New York City Police Department (NYPC) between January 1 and September 23, 2012, representing a 40 percent on the same period a year earlier.

Also, according to NYPD analysis, around 30 percent of all electronic devices that were stolen on New York City public transport in 2011 came from companies that were not manufactured by Apple.

In a press release, Schneiderman noted a recent study that found lost and stolen cell and smartphones cost consumers more than $30 billion in 2012.

Apple and Microsoft have systems in place that allow users, who may have lost or misplaced their devices, or knowingly had their devices stolen, to remotely locate, lock or even securely wipe their devices. Google [PDF] — which includes Motorola — and Samsung [PDF] were also written to by Schneiderman as their devices and platforms dominate the smartphone market.

But the system isn't flawless. The onus of responsibility falls on the cell phone or smartphone user to use these platform or smartphone maker provided services, rather than the companies themselves.

While the issue is not limited to New York City and state residents, Schneiderman argues: "Surely we can work together to find solutions that lead to a reduction in violent street crime targeting consumers."

Topics: Security, Apple, Google, iOS, iPhone, Microsoft, Samsung

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  • NY = The Nanny State

    Smartphones sold in NY now limited to only accepting 6 hours of power from a single battery before you have to change batteries.
    • "Smartphones sold in NY now limited to only accepting 6 hours of power..."

      And you would be wrong.
  • Um, NY Attorney General,

    if you actually started catching and prosecuting these thieves, maybe the crime rate would start going down. Talk to Rudy Giuliani.
  • Finally!

    Someone needed to say it.

    London-200 smartphones a day stolen.

    They even trade them out at the apple store to get around imei blocks.

    It took me all of three seconds to work this one out for apple - report your phone stolen, get a crime reference number and apple can update their server to block tour phone.

    On current models it wouldn't stop you using jailbroken firmware, but there should be a way to tie in proper lockdown in future models.

    This is sworely needed.

    The bare minimum should be an international imei block on networks so that you can't just steal a phone in one country and sell it in another
  • Why: $30 Billion Lost and Stolen Phones

    To find the answer to many questions, just follow the money trail. Lost and stolen phones would be a very simple thing to do. Each phone already has a unique ID number (i.e. serial number). When provisioning a phone, the carrier reads this ID. All they need is a simple database with the ID number of lost and stolen phones.

    Just like the credit card companies, too much money is made on theft and fraud. The CC companies could easily eliminate fraud. Why not? PCI for one. They collect fees from the merchant when they do the charge back. And then they try to collect from the card holder too.

    $30 Billion is a good reason (for Jackals) not to spend R&D resources on theft prevention.
  • Why the picture of Blackberry?

    No mention of Blackberry being sent a letter. Microsoft? Hmmm, maybe more Windows Phones are being sold than we've been led to believe? Or, is the NY AG just "phishing"? Why not send a letter to all the mobile carriers, since in large part it is the carriers that hold most of the information as to who owns what device?
    • Bit strange

      Most thief's would see it's a Blackberry and give it back! lol
      Just kidding!
  • You lose, you buy

    If somebody steals the phone then you are going to buy a new one. Most likely for a higher unsubsidized price and at the same carrier since you are still on that great 2-year contract. The only loser is you. Why anyone else should care?
    • They buy a stolen one on ebay

      Or get a refurb from their insurance
      They cost 500 quid new .... Not a lot of people can just pull that out of the ether.

      It's what creates the market for thrives - steal and sell to someone who had theirs stolen.
    • but how much of the crime is

      insurance fraud? If your phone's been dropped 10-15 times they can begin to show signs of wear. Instead of buying a new one for retail some might report it as stolen.
  • I think you want "epidemic"

    "endemic" is almost entirely used as an adjective. The way you are using it, you want "epidemic", I believe.
    • Endemic

      "natural to or characteristic of a specific people or place." Maybe he's using it on purpose, meaning that it's natural for phones to be stolen because they are in New York, the only place on earth this happens.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
  • "endemic"

    You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
    x I'm tc
  • More Government Idiocy

    Unbelievable. Clearly we create a public safety problem by having anything anyone would want to steal. And its obviously the fault of the manufacturer, not the thief, so we should foot the bill for it. No wonder this country is swirling the bowel with idiots like the AG of NY.

    Perhaps the AG should consider doing his job and actually prosecuting the thieves rather than punishing the manufacturers and consumers.
  • Be careful what you wish for

    Computer security is based on keeping secrets whether these secrets are account passwords or strong encryption keys. The same feature that allows you to disable or remotely wipe your smart phone grants an identity thief or corrupt government official the same capability. Trusting the cloud to keep your identity safe may not be the best choice without a consistent and strong identity infrastructure with appropriate controls.

    The same government that wages secret wars on false pretenses now wants us to trust it to manage our digital identity. Earning trust is not small matter.

    I'm all for disabling reportedly stolen phones to deter theft, but creating a strong national identify infrastructure is too big a problem for the device makers to solve alone, and most governments lack the credibility to help.
    • Halleluia! Some one else was thinking what I was thinking...

      Best any company can do is remotely wipe the drive. But that right there is too much. Cus if the company can do it, so can the evil geniuses (corrupt government officials, identity thieves, corporate crooks) who are up to no good.

      I guess I'm permanently out of the smartphone market. Thanks for the heads up.
  • Shouldn't be a matter of

    Personal Information being used, phone's all have a unique address which they should be able to lock out. Once it's implemented thief's would soon lose interest causing both crime rates and insurance cost to go down. The only group to potentially lose would be the handset makers who might lose sales.
    But hey, we know it won't happen because too many tinfoil hats and big company's have vested interest in letting it continue!
    "shakes head"
    • Oh and of course

      the Thief's will lose out too!
      • Thieves

        Yaaaah! If I see another thief's I'll call the cops! Plural of thief is thieves.
    • well

      just like stolen cars, phones have value as parts even if they cant be activated again.