Blog & Company News

Jul 12, 2012

The Problem with the Planned AT&T Stolen iPhone Service

AT&T has recently announced an interesting service for stolen iPhones on their network. Customers that have a missing or stolen iPhone will be required to contact a service representative. The service representative will then proceed to shut down voice, data, and SMS service for the wandering device. This saves the actual owner from potential unauthorized service charges and need for a SIM block. On the surface, this sounds good. But ask yourself one question - with the data off, how will the Apple Find My iPhone work? The answer is simple - it won't. No iPhone Finding The Find My iPhone feature requires an active data connection in order to report its position. If you turn off the data connection, as AT&T's planned service would do, then you silence the iPhone's ability to phone home, so to say. The iPhone would not be able to connect to Apple's server and report its position, as requested. In fact, it would never get the request in the first place. But don't just take my word for it - here is a comment from AT&T's press team: "As announced in April, AT&T is creating a stolen phone database to prevent devices reported stolen from accessing wireless networks. We will install this availability next week for AT&T phones on our network and are working toward a cross-carrier solution later this year." Yes, AT&T is serious about stolen devices not being able to access the wireless network. And no access does mean that Find My iPhone would not work. But that is not the only important phone loss application that would fail to work. No Remote Wipe The iPhones of today have many gigs of storage, much more than full blown desktops of a few years back. So it is natural to assume that a user could have a lot of personal data on the device that they would rather not share. Thankfully, Apple has considered how important this data could be to you and built in to the operating system its own remote wipe capability. Naturally, in order to do a remote wipe you need to be able to access the device. But if that device is kicked off the network, well, it won't be doing any remote data wipes. Carrier Shared Stolen Device List Now, to be fair, AT&T is not the only carrier offering this service. The major carriers are working together to create a shared stolen device list and any entrant on this list would not be allowed to play on any of the carrier's networks. Once you report a device stolen it would be added to the list and shared among carriers. Since inclusion on the blacklist is based on the device ID and not a SIM block, it would not be possible for the thieves to simply swap out SIM cards to make the device work again. Once on the blacklist the only way to remove a device is for the original owner to report it found. Hopefully the process for blacklist removal will be bug free and speedy for the happy owner. But can you imagine the potential finger pointing during an issue, with the carrier claiming that they do not maintain the blacklist? It's enough to send chills down the back of anyone who has dealt with carrier red tape. The AT&T stolen iPhone service can save you from unauthorized charges when your device is stolen. Before you report it missing be sure to use ‘Find My iPhone’ to locate your device, just in case it is misplaced or easily recoverable. If that fails, go ahead and do a remote wipe on your device, hopefully the data is backed up in the cloud or locally. Then, and only then, you may want to report the device stolen to prevent unauthorized charges. And when you do, that smart device is going to become, from a network viewpoint, a dumb brick. At that point your best option is to write your beloved device off as a complete loss. AT&T will be more than happy to sell you a new device, complete with a shiny new contract.