Apple, Google Meet With N.Y. on Phone-Theft ’Epidemic’

Apple Inc. and Google Inc. met with the New York Attorney General about thefts of smartphones as law enforcement officials demand that phone manufacturers take steps to protect consumers.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon today announced an initiative with officials around the U.S. to encourage the smartphone industry to deter thefts and eliminate the market for stolen phones.

“It is totally unacceptable that we have an epidemic of crime that we believe can be eliminated if the technological fixes we believe are available are put into place and smartphones are equipped to be disabled,” Schneiderman said at a press conference.

Representatives of Apple, Google, Samsung Electronics Co. and Microsoft Corp. met with the attorney general’s office today about the issue. Officials want the industry to make stolen phones useless, possibly with a “kill switch” that would permanently disable a phone.

About 113 smartphones are stolen or lost each minute in the U.S., according to the attorney general’s office.

Megan Boken, 23, was killed last year in St. Louis for her phone while talking on it with her mother, her family said today. Smartphone manufacturers profit from the sale of stolen phones and have the ability to make phones inoperable, her father, Paul Boken, said.

“The creators of these magnificent devices have the brainpower to figure this out,” he said.

IPhone Feature

Apple, maker of the iPhone, said it has helped customers protect lost or stolen phones since 2009 with the “Find My iPhone” feature, which allows users to track the location of their devices and erase personal data.

This week, the Cupertino, California-based company announced a security enhancement called activation lock that requires an Apple identification and password to reactivate a phone. It will be available on its new operating system.

“With Activation Lock, Find My iPhone gives customers even more control over their devices and serves as a theft deterrent by requiring an Apple ID and password to turn off Find My iPhone, erase data or reactivate a device,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said in a statement.

Representatives of the other companies couldn’t be reached or didn’t immediately comment.

The initiative announced by Schneiderman and Gascon today includes attorneys general, district attorneys and police chiefs around the country.

“The industry has a moral and has a social obligation to fix this problem,” Gascon said.

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