Let's face it, we are all obsessed with our mobile phones. I'm here in Times Square, and as I look around, you can't help but notice that people have their phones out to text, chat, and snap photos. However, when these personal devices go missing and are stolen, our data, photos, contacts, and other sensitive information may be compromised.
A thug punched me in the face and stole my iPhone in San Francisco. I'm not alone, this sort of crime happens a lot. In fact, smartphone thefts are on the rise. For instance, 40% of the robberies in New York City are smartphones thefts. Other urban areas also report high incidences of these crimes. With iPhones they have a special name for it: "Apple picking."
But the good news is there are apps that can help you locate and even snap photos of the suspected thief. Here are five apps that can keep your data safe by using GPS or Wi-Fi networks to locate the suspect and map their approximate location. Some apps use the camera in the phone to snap a photo of the suspected criminal.
The first app is Lookout Mobile Security, which sounds an alarm so you can find you iPhone if it has been stolen nearby or simply misplaced on the couch. Or you can send a message to your iPhone in case a person who finds it wants to return it to you. It is free and available for iOS and Android devices.
BlueSprig's Aircover has a map so you can locate the device. You can send a message out if you've lost the phone, or wipe the device clean. It also addresses threats from malware and phishing and other security breaches on mobile phones. It is free and available on iOS and Android devices.
The third app, Project Prey, is an open source anti-theft app for your smartphone and other gadgets. It can track the device and snap screen shots of the criminal. It runs on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and they have a package customized for Ubuntu. It's different than the other apps because it is designed to track your devices at all times, rather than just waiting until they go missing. For a minimal cost, organizations can track hundreds of devices.
Gadget Trak, which costs $3.99 in the Apple App store, tracks your phone using Wi-Fi networks and it even uses the camera to snap a photo of the thieves. Gadget Trak was founded in 2007, and it lists many success stories on its web site including the world's first recovery of a stolen iPod.
Find My iPhonE is a popular free iOS option, which lets you use another iOS device to locate the lost iOS device. When your phone is lost or stolen, you can activate a loud sound, send a message or remotely wipe the phone. Unfortunately in my case, after my iPhone was stolen, Find My iPhone didn't work. Several cops told me that it doesn't give exact location information, so it makes it hard to track down criminals because they can't tell where they are hiding. The app also doesn't work if the phone is turned off.
Recently, the Federal Communications Commissions announced that four major cell phones carriers have agreed to help prevent stolen smartphones from being resold. If phones are registered on a national registry, it would prevent stolen phones from being reactivated which would hopefully make stealing a smartphone as useless as stealing an empty wallet.
While losing your phone or having it stolen may be frustrating, knowing there are apps out there that can help you locate and remotely wipe your personal information at the touch of a button, should at least make you feel a bit more secure. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry, right?