According to the Google run OurMobilePlanet.com, smartphone penetration is rising every year in the US at around 12%. With 64% of the US population currently owning a smartphone and almost half the population owning a tablet device, our reliance on mobile technology continues to grow at an incredible pace. As smartphones and tablets have increased in their ability to carry out evermore complex tasks and applications so has our dependence grown. Our mobile devices have changed the way we work, communicate and socialize so much so that if ever deprived of our ubiquitous technology, it’s not uncommon for users to rapidly feel isolated and impotent. Not only are our mobile devices a fundamental part of how we live our lives but they also house a myriad of personal data that in most cases is irreplaceable. From personal photo’s to contact numbers to work documents – our mobile devices are this century’s briefcases, maps, music player, photo albums, rolodex’s and filing cabinets all crammed into one tiny device; so it’s no surprise that some take extraordinary measures to retrieve them – even if it means putting themselves in very real danger.
The last reliable data shows that there were 4.5 million lost or stolen smartphones in the US in 2013 (there is currently no reliable data for tablet devices) and considering the huge personal disruption and financial cost of the devices, developers have come up with measures to help retrieve our mobile devices. The two dominant players in mobile devices – Apple and Android, both have apps that enable device tracking that can pinpoint your device’s location and even wipe your device if necessary. For Apple devices this is all done
through their iCloud environment. Simply enable the Find my iPhone option under the iCloud settings of your phone. If you do not enable this setting you will be unable to track your device! One feature that many users miss is actually crucial in the case of a lost phone; enabling the Send Last Location option will automatically send the location of your device to Apple servers when your battery is critically low.
For Android users there are a few more options through the Google Play Store, however Google’s own Android Device Manager is the most popular choice. Much like Apple’s offering you have the ability to track your device and erase all data on it if necessary. Both apps are easy to install but are equally easy to disable on the device and with 36% of users operating their mobile device without any password protection, it’s imperative to provide that first level of security.
Regardless of what device you use or app you decide to track your device, they all rely on utilizing an internet connection – either through wifi or the cellular network; if the device is deactivated from your network carrier, is not connected to wifi or simply powers off, the phone will effectively go dark, rendering your control options obsolete. While it’s comforting to know that should your device fall into the wrong hands you have the ability to delete your personal data, for many, losing their device and data is an absolute last resort.
Over the past few years there have been numerous cases of private citizens circumventing traditional law enforcement and taking matters into their own hands in an effort to retrieve stolen devices. Using their tracking apps, users have been able to find out exactly where their devices have gone. Perhaps forgetting the mentality of the nefarious types who typically are responsible for device theft, users have paid the ultimate price in their attempts to retrieve their stolen property. The recent death of an 18-year-old man in Canada who had tracked his device to a parking lot before being shot multiple times as the thieves made their escape has highlighted the inherent danger in attempting personal retrievals and the possible consequences of such a confrontation. This tragic case prompted Toronto Police to advise that even in cases of a suspected lost phone, exchanges should be done in a public place and that in the event of a theft, wipe the device then report it to the authorities.
Leave it to the Pros
While private citizens must exercise care, law enforcement agencies have had several successes utilizing tracking apps. In 2011 in Los Angeles, one of the earliest cases of law enforcement successfully using an iPhone’s tracking app saw an armed robber apprehended after police used the tracking app to follow the thief who was still carrying the stolen device.
Unfortunately, the majority of users do not have a tracking app enabled on their device, meaning lost devices stay lost and they have no useful information for law enforcement. Considering how simple it is to enable on your device and how vital your device is to you; it’s absolutely worth the two or three minutes it takes to set-up.