London Mayor Boris Johnson has signed up to a smartphone anti-theft initiative, joining New York and San Francisco law enforcement agencies in a combined effort to combat smartphone theft.
As in these major US cities, the thefts of smartphones in London is a major problem and has a negative impact on crime statistics. Personal thefts involving smartphones account for a large proportion of street crime in the capital, with the Apple iPhone the favourite target for street robbers.
In London around 10,000 mobile phones are stolen each month, whilst almost half of all street crime in New York and San Francisco involve smartphones. In an effort to combat this growing problem, New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón got together and formed the 'Secure Our Smartphones' alliance.
The alliance aims to put pressure on the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft to do more in making smartphones less of an appealing target. They are pushing for the main players within the smartphone industry to introduce a number of 'locks' built in to the operating system of the phone, that can remotely wipe a handset and render it unusable if it gets stolen.
Apple will be introducing something along these lines when they introduce iOS 7, where a stolen handset can be locked remotely, and even re-installing the OS won't bypass the lock. The only way to get the phone working again will be to enter in a user defined unlocking code. The Secure Our Smartphones alliance would like to see the other smartphone players do something similar with their own systems, removing the appeal of an easy sale for stolen phones.
Samsung too have responded to calls to make their devices more secure, and will be introducing a 'Lojack for Mobile Devices' feature, that will initially appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4.
However, the alliance feel more needs to be done, and in particular are critical of Microsoft and Google for not doing more to protect their devices, with Google the main focus of criticism:
“They control a large segment of the market,” said Gascón. “It is critical that Google come up with a solution and we want to make sure we continue with this dialogue. We want to work in co-operation but we are prepared to take other measures. Too many people are getting injured and the cost to consumers is sky-rocketing. This is one of the few areas where technology can help evade the problem.”
Gascón and Schneiderman have both hinted that if manufacturers and software developers do not comply with requests, then there remains the possibility of legislation being introduced to force companies to comply.
In a statement, Mayor Boris Johnson said: “Residents and visitors to our city need better protection from the menace of smartphone theft. Cities like London, New York and San Francisco all face the same challenge, and that is why London is joining the Secure Our Smartphones campaign to help find a global solution. We need the industry to take this seriously and come up with a technical solution that can squash the illegal smartphone market that is fuelling this crime.”