10:33 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

GPS Snags Would-Be iPhone Thief

Crook attempts to make off with iPhone in San Francisco. Too bad for him it was being used to test a real-time GPS tracking app at the time.

The world's snatch-and-grab thieves should consider themselves forewarned: Nearly all smartphones have GPS on board, and iPhone, BlackBerry and (eventually) Windows Phone 7 users will be able to track the location of their phone right to the thieves' lair.

That's not quite what happened in the tale of David Kahn's iPhone, but close enough. Mr. Kahn works for a company called Covia Labs, and was in San Francisco on Monday to demo his Alert & Respond service to his public relations team. One of the team members took the iPhone outside in the South of Market neighborhood when a man road by on a bicycle, snatched the iPhone, and took off.

Mr. Kahn was sitting at a laptop upstairs in the office, and noticed that his colleague was suddenly moving extremely fast down the street as he tracked the iPhone. Then she came running into the office and called the police.

Police used Mr. Kahn's software to track and arrest the thief. He was caught about a half-mile away, about 10 minutes after the theft. The alleged thief was booked for suspicion of grand theft and possession of stolen property.

"What are the odds that you would grab someone's cell phone during a demonstration of the ability to track the phone's location in real time? That's what this unfortunate thief did," said Kahn.

Kahn's software could have allowed him to turn on the iPhone's microphone and even take a picture, which could have been used to aid in the device's recovery. He chose not to take such actions, as he felt it might have alerted the thief that he was being tracked.

"This reminds me of the bank robber who arrives during the security test," said Kahn.

Business owners should remember that Kahn's Alert & Respond and similar tools can help track down lost assets. Apple, RIM, and Microsoft each offers its own version of device tracking to help recover these expensive devices, though their services are aimed at consumers.

The key is -- in the event the device can't be retrieved -- that it be locked and/or wiped to protect company data. As Mr. Kahn was able to recover his device so quickly, it appears he didn't have to take those steps. The iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile all offer these security features.

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