Mobile // Mobile Devices
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4/16/2012
05:13 PM
Dino Londis
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Phone Stolen? FCC PROTECTS Initiative Promises Some Relief

With the recently announced PROTECTS Initiative, the FCC hopes to put an end to smart phone thefts by removing the incentive to steal them. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile will create a blacklist of stolen device IDs, making it harder to reactivate them. Even so, some victims might be on their own.

Much of the focus of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend has centered on the IT department's new responsibilities for securing corporate data on devices that are purchased by employees, yet managed by IT. Consumer devices such as iPhones have split yet overlapping personalities. They can be personal devices at work, and corporate devices at the beach. IT's challenge is to secure the data on personal devices while they are in the hands of employees, and wipe the data from the devices if they are lost or stolen.

One responsibility the IT department no longer has to shoulder, though, is replacing lost or stolen devices. I can tell you firsthand it's a relief. Years ago, as a Treo administrator, I was charged with replacing lost, stolen, and broken phones. When users get a free phone, they don't care for it like they would if they had bought it themselves. Many Treos would come back after only a few months as if they had been in battle. They were dripping wet, had broken crystals, were stuck in reboot cycles, and so on. Recycling them through our insurance provider was a very low-tech, tedious process that kept me away from more interesting work.

Now, the responsibility for replacing lost or stolen phones has shifted, from the IT department to the employee who owns the phone. Something that became routine for me in IT requires a learning curve for the average employee at the same time her ability to communicate has been hobbled. And it's all too easy to lose a phone, even when your job is riding on it. Just ask the two Apple employees who both lost iPhone prototypes in bars. Don't drink and test!

Worse, brazen grabs of smart phones is skyrocketing in urban areas. New York has added hundreds of extra cops in subways, where gadget grabs account for half the thefts in the transit system. To a thief, the person with the phone might as well be holding $500 in his hand.

With the recently announced PROTECTS Initiative, the FCC hopes to put an end to smart phone thefts by removing the incentive to steal them. In a two-year program, the four major carriers will create a database that records the International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) of phones that are reported stolen. Then the FCC will link the databases so a stolen phone can't be ported from one carrier to another. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile all have agreed to the program and smaller providers are expected to join soon.

In the short term, the announcement might cause a spike in thefts because thieves will want to fence as much as possible before the window closes. The program also could have no impact at all. The IMEI could be modified, the phones could be shipped overseas, or they could be sold as cheaper Wi-fi devices.

Employees who use their smart phone for work need to take some of the proactive steps the IT department once took to ensure the replacement of a new phone. Most carriers provide insurance in the event a phone is lost or stolen. Unfortunately, with a monthly payment of $7 and a $200 deductible, as in AT&T's Mobile Insurance program, a replacement could cost over $240 if it was stolen six months after purchase. I found a few third-party insurers that had favorable reviews for protection of iPhones from loss, theft, even water damage. The Worth Ave Group charges a $99 annual premium on an $800 iPhone 4S with a $50 deductible. There is a replacement cost of $149 if it is stolen six months after purchase.

That's a bit better. However, in both cases there is still some down time and it might come right when you need that phone the most. (When don't you?) Maybe the most proactive measure an employee can take to protect a smartphone is to never let it get stolen. At a fraction of the cost of insurance, a $22 4Voi iPhone case with wrist tether can help prevent drops, accidentally leaving your phone behind, and opportunistic thieves. All you have to do is remember to use the tether.

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