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

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.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
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."

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