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NYT article accuses Apple of not doing enough to prevent iPhone thefts

Smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers could be doing a lot more to counteract iPhone and other mobile device thefts, security experts and industry observers say in a New York Times report that singles out Apple.


NYPD sign up customers for antitheft measures at Apple's Fifth Ave store. Photo via Gothamist.

As iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices increase in popularity, so too is the crime rate involving such devices on the rise. In San Francisco, where a stolen iPhone 5 can sell for as much as $500, nearly half of all robberies last year involved a cellphone, according to The New York Times, which profiled the trends Thursday in an article with a headline that accused the mobile industry of looking "the other way."

Late last year, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed to iPhone thefts as the single driver of an overall crime increase in the city. Without Apple product thefts, crime would have been down overall for 2012.

With phone theft increasingly common, some police representatives and security experts are calling on the nation's wireless carriers and smartphone manufacturers to implement measures that will make it harder for thieves to profit from their crimes.

"Unlike other types of crimes, this is a crime that could easily be fixed with a technological solution," George Gascón, San Francisco's district attorney, told the Times. Gascón said manufacturers like Apple should be exploring technologies that would help fight cellphone theft. He has met with Apple before to discuss antitheft technology, but received no indication from Apple that it was interested in boosting such efforts.

Currently, a number of antitheft technologies exist, allowing mobile device owners to track stolen smartphones and tablets. Early last year, AT&T rolled out a new system that blocked stolen iPhones from network access. Also, Apple's Find My Phone feature uses iCloud to track stolen iOS devices, which has resulted in some notable busts.

Those efforts, though, are incomplete, critics say. Thieves are able to hack phones' International Mobile Station Equipment Identities in order to erase all data on the phone, rendering it unidentifiable to databases that track stolen phones. Some commentators believe cellphone makers should devise their devices to become inoperable should such a reset occur. Privacy advocates, though, say that consumers should be able to reset their devices as they wish if they want to avoid tracking.

Apple has been working with police recently to track down mobile device thieves, using the devices IMEI numbers to track their current locations and informing police where they should go.