80 percent of iPhone users in SF deploy Activation Lock, survey says 

click to enlarge smartphone
  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Police say more than half the robberies in San Francisco involve a smartphone.
As smartphones become more and more prevalent, more users are taking measures to keep the popular — and pricey — mobile computers safe from thieves.

Almost 80 percent of iPhone users in tech-savvy San Francisco have enabled Activation Lock in order to secure their phones if they are stolen, according to a survey conducted by the District Attorney’s Office.

A recent innovation from Apple, Activation Lock requires that a user’s Apple ID and password be entered before a device can be wiped or the Find My iPhone phone-tracking app is disabled.

Stolen mobile devices are the chief cause of a five-year spike in crime in San Francisco, according to police, as more than half of robberies in The City involve a smartphone. Some 40,000 property crimes were reported in The City through the end of October, the most recent month for which data were available.

That’s the most property crimes reported to police since the department began tracking crime data using CompStat in 2009.

In response, District Attorney George Gascón has become one of the nation’s most vocal and visible crusaders against smartphone theft.

Gascón and other prosecutors across the country have made a steady push for anti-theft measures like kill switches to become standard. He is co-chairman, along with New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, on a mobile device crime-fighting effort called Save Our Smartphones.

Activation Lock, so far the only kill-switch technology available in America, is available only on iPhones running iOS7 with Find My iPhone turned on.

Gascón praised Apple for making the feature available, but called on the company and its competitors to do more.

In a statement released Wednesday, Gascón noted that the feature is still not standard and that thieves can’t tell if a phone is secured or not, which leaves all iPhone users — not to mention phone users who prefer Android — at risk.

How effective these measures are is still unclear. San Francisco police do not track or keep data on how many stolen iPhones are recovered using these methods, according to Officer Albie Esparza.

About two-thirds of San Franciscans use a smartphone, according to a Harris Interactive survey conducted in October, and 36 percent of people in The City use tablets such as iPads.

That means there are hundreds of thousands of lucrative potential targets for thieves, who can fetch as much as $2,000 for stolen electronics shipped and resold overseas, according to Gascón.

The cellphone industry has been reluctant or outright resistant to efforts to curb theft.

A proposal from Samsung to incorporate kill switches as standard features on Android phones was rejected by wireless service plan providers, prompting Gascón and Schneiderman to demand an explanation from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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