Daily Dose of iQ: The iPhone Lock Dilemma

Jun 16, 2014 — Allan Pulga

The smartphone kill switch issue is a story we've followed for several months now, and it's a fascinating one due its stakeholders (consumers, carriers, phone manufacturers, politicians) and the desired outcomes of such a kill switch. It's also compelling because phone theft has affected so many of us: Consumer Reports estimates 3.1 million U.S. consumers were victims of phone theft in 2013.

3.1 million U.S. consumers fell victim to phone theft in 2013.Source: Consumer Reports

Apple, specifically, introduced a new security feature last year as part of iOS 7: the iCloud Activation lock. If enabled, the feature requires you to provide a specific Apple ID and password to erase and reactivate an iOS device.

This feature, like a kill switch, is intended to protect a user's data in the event that their phone is stolen. Indirectly, it's also meant to deter thieves from stealing phones that would ultimately be unusable without the password.

The feature also creates an unintended dilemma for Apple: How to help non-thieves activate phones for reselling? The Verge's Josh Lowensohn reported on Friday (June 13), that legitimate iPhone resellers have "piles of non-functioning devices -- a problem that's expected to get worse as the next wave of trade-ins begins, and millions of older devices are cycled out."

Apple's decision not to help third-party resellers ultimately boils down to money.Josh Lowensohn, The Verge

The Verge quoted a Toronto-based iPhone refurbisher who says he's been in contact with Apple, but the company has offered no assistance. In terms of a direct statement, "Apple declined to comment to The Verge on claims that some bulk device purchasers were facing issues, and pointed to its support and recycling pages, which spell out what customers need to do before sending in a device with iCloud activation lock enabled."

While Apple offers ways for users to unlock iOS devices they no longer own, there are no such processes for legitimate resellers. "That is, in part, to keep theft rings from benefitting in scale," Lowensohn writes.

But that's not all. Apple apparently has its own reuse and recycling program, so it isn't overly keen to help competing third parties. "It ultimately boils down to money," Lowensohn explains. So perhaps it isn't a dilemma for Apple, after all. The company seems to have already made up its mind.

Topics: Privacy, Wireless Trends, Mobile Industry

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