Who’s Responsible for Preventing Cellphone Theft?

by Matt Klassen on May 6, 2013

There’s no question that our society as whole is quick to assign blame but agonizingly slow to take any sort of responsibility. Whether its burning one’s mouth on a cup of hot coffee and then suing the vendor for making it so, or more serious tragedies like stepping out onto a subway track in between two cars while texting and then blaming the company for not installing safety rails, if we’re able to pass the buck to someone else, well there’s a good chance we’ll do so.

So take the interlocked issues of cellphone security and mobile theft, the former spreading like wildfire across the nation; a crime wave that has many asking questions about whether or not carriers and manufacturers are doing enough to prevent cellphone theft and assist the victims of such crimes.

In a recent article in The New York Times investigated the issue, concluding that more, much more in fact, could be done to increase the security of our mobile devices, making it more difficult to steal and thus less appealing to thieves. There are, of course, many common sense steps that users could take as well….but lets blame others instead.

As E-Commerce Times writers Erika Morphy insightfully notes, this current rash of cellphone thefts across the nation is reminiscent of the wave of auto thefts over a decade ago. Customers clamored that their vehicles were too easy to steal, and the automotive industry increased security by installing anti-theft technology. Sure it doesn’t provide comprehensive security against theft, but it sure has gone a long way to deterring common thieves and lowering auto crime in general.

Such countermeasures would be even easier to employ for cellphones, given that unlike other crimes, this one has a “technological solution.”

That said, there already does exist a little known nationwide database to track stolen cellphones, meaning if they ever appear on the carrier’s network again, the phone will be shutdown. The problem of course is that thieves have long outsmarted such a network, often times shipping the stolen phones overseas or simply reprogramming them, making tracking impossible.

For their part carriers say they have ‘faith’ in the growing mobile theft database, saying they are working along with law enforcement to expand the network and help prevent phones from being reactivated, yet cellphone theft continues to rise prompting users to call for additional security tools.

The problem, law enforcement agencies say, is that both carriers and manufacturers could do more, but have significant monetary incentive to do nothing at all. “The carriers are not innocent in this whole game. They are making profit off this,” said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the police department of theDistrict of   Columbia.

Simply put, when your phone is stolen and you’re locked into a contract, either you pony up the full price of a new phone on that current contract or continue paying a monthly bill for a phone you no longer have.

While I would certainly agree that there is significant incentive to do little to prevent mobile theft, from my perspective what more can carriers do than to provide security features on the phone itself and track stolen phones? “Most devices are equipped to enable strong passcodes, and some have features that allow them to be remotely disabled or have data deleted to protect against data theft”, noted Chad Udell, managing director of Float Mobile Learning, meaning that as always, while greater advances in mobile security are likely to come, the onus ultimately rests with the end user.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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