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New York authorities ask Apple, Google to help stop smartphone thefts

The Attorney General for the state of New York has asked Apple and other tech leaders to do more to stop smartphone thieves and, further, aid in the elimination of a growing black market for the stolen devices.


NYPD sign up customers for phone protection at Apple's Fifth Ave store. | Source: The Gothamist

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung last week asking that the companies develop technologies to do their part to curb smartphone theft, according to Bloomberg. Schneiderman's letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook called the company to task on not implementing tech to cut down on theft.

“I seek to understand," Schneiderman wrote, "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.”

Schneiderman's letters came just days after a piece in The New York Times called out Apple and other manufacturers, saying that the telecoms companies essentially profited off smartphone theft. In that piece, San Francisco district attorney George Gascón said he had met with Apple to discuss antitheft technology, but that Apple had given no indication that they were interested in implementing such technology.

Currently, a number of antitheft technologies are already built into many smartphones. Users can track stolen iOS devices with Apple's iCloud-based "Find My iPhone" service, while AT&T offers a system that blocks stolen iPhones from accessing its network.

Critics say those efforts don't deter thieves who will typically hack a device to erase all of its data and render it essentially brand new. Schneiderman addressed the issue in his letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

“Foreign trafficking of stolen devices has proliferated," he wrote, "and an abundance of domestic black market resellers, including right here in New York, means as a practical matter that phones do not, contrary to your website’s assertion, become unusable.”

Last year it was reported that thefts of Apple devices alone caused a 14 percent jump in crime in New York city.