iOS 7’s ‘Activation Lock’ Delivers Cautious Optimism to Officials Concerned Over Mobile Device Thefts

One of the new iOS 7 features introduced by Craig Federighi at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote yesterday was Activation Lock, which aims to reduce the appeal of Apple devices to thieves by preventing stolen phones from being activated by new users.

There’s one feature I want to talk about in a little more detail, which is Activation Lock. So, hundreds of millions of use Find My iPhone to find our phone when it’s just lost in the couch, or maybe left at Starbucks, but also when it’s been stolen. And now, with Activation Lock, if a thief tries to turn off Find My iPhone, or if they even wipe the device entirely, they will not be able to reactivate it because they don’t know your iCloud user name and password. We think this is going to be a really powerful theft deterrent.

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Apple’s announcement comes just days before a summit scheduled by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón in which the officials are to meet with representatives of Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft to discuss issues related to mobile device theft. The officials have been pushing manufacturers and carriers to find ways to disable stolen devices in hopes of making them less desirable to thieves.

As noted by the Associated Press, Schneiderman and Gascón released a statement yesterday addressing Apple’s activation lock and noting they are cautiously optimistic about the announcement while waiting to hear more details about how it works.

“We are appreciative of the gesture made by Apple to address smartphone theft. We reserve judgment on the activation lock feature until we can understand its actual functionality,” the prosecutors said in a joint written statement. […]

“We are hopeful that the cellphone industry will imbed persistent technology that is free to consumers that will make a phone inoperable once stolen, even if the device is off, the SIM card is removed or the phone is modified by a thief to avoid detection,” the prosecutors said.

The summit is scheduled for this Thursday in New York City, and Apple will presumably share more information about Activation Lock with the officials at that time to help them understand its benefits and limitations.

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