Sunday, December 4, 2011

Can more indeed be done to disincentivise smartphone theft?

San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W.Nevius has an interesting article on how Australian mobile operators do far more than in the US to block stolen phones. On the surface, it is intriguing that more governments, manufacturers and operators can't bang their respective heads together to put more measures in place, both technologically and legislatively, to curb mobile phone theft, particularly that of high-end smartphones.

Direction from governments is probably required. As the aforementioned article mentions, if left to capitalism alone, there is little incentive for mobile operators and manufacturers to put such schemes in place: for them, theft simply equates to more sales. Another interesting thought is that various countries in Latin America do apparently have some measures in place to block the connection of stolen phones. If the US doesn't, then this situation presumably serves to make the US an even more prime target market for the criminals selling stolen devices.

However, such measures surely aren't a panacea. Any system is only as strong as its weakpoints. What measures would need to be put in place to ensure the accuracy of the database and eliminate "false positives"? Since (presumably) operator staff have the ability to override the system in order to deal with cases of error, how does one prevent them from becoming targets for blackmail, bribery and gang involvement, in effect simply shifting the problem? What methods could criminals fight back with (e.g. replacement of the chip containing the serial number), and what impact would this ultimately have in terms of where new criminal opportunities would spring up? And what more serious crimes would criminals then commit instead of stealing mobile phones?

Nonetheless, I haven't seen much debate of these issues and it does seem that potential measures at least deserve more consideration from governments and operators and a clearer explanation for why they cannot be put in place if indeed they can't.

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