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NY AG Wants Industry's Help in Cracking Down On Smartphone Thefts

New York’s attorney general is calling on the four major makers of smartphones and the systems that run on the phones to do more to protect consumers from cell-phone thefts. He says in too many cases, the thefts are violent.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Monday that he’d sent letters to the CEOs of Apple, Google /Motorola, Microsoft, and Samsung seeking information about their efforts to protect customers from the rise in violent street crimes known as “Apple Picking”. After stealing the phones, the thieves wipe the devices’ memories clean and resell them for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. Here’s Assistant Attorney General in the Internet Bureau Clark Russell.

In his letters, Schneiderman notes his responsibility to enforce New York laws that address deceptive trade practices. He asked the four companies – which together account for at least 90 percent of U.S. smartphone sales – to provide information related to efforts and representations they make to consumers regarding safety. Again, here’s Russell.

Thus the attorney general is asking the companies to designate representatives to work with his office to collaborate in developing a comprehensive approach to discourage theft and protect consumers. When asked whether the letter could precede enforcement action, Russell repeatedly said the letters are really an information-gathering effort.

A Google spokesperson, in an e-mailed statement, said Google encourages smartphone users to lock their devices with a PIN or pattern and set their devices to lock automatically when not in use. The spokesperson did not respond in time for this broadcast to questions about whether Google will work with the attorney general to crack down on cell-phone theft. Requests for comment from Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft were not answered in time for this broadcast. Meanwhile, Clark Russell, from the attorney general’s office describes the feedback from the companies’ representatives.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s letters also seek information about whether companies have seen any financial benefit as a result of customers purchasing replacements for stolen devices, citing a recent study finding that lost and stolen cell phones cost U.S. consumers more than $30 billion last year. The study is from Lookout, a mobile-security company that Schneiderman says is advising his office on anti-theft measures. Here’s Russell.

In the letters to the individual companies, Schneiderman writes that he seeks to understand why companies that can develop sophisticated handheld devices and operating systems cannot also create technology to render such stolen devices inoperable, thereby eliminating the black market on which they are sold.

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