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NYC attorney seeks mobe-makers' help to curb muggings

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In a series of letters, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called upon smartphone makers to explain what they are doing to combat the growing problem of handset theft.

"Cracking down on violent and dangerous cell phone thefts is important for New Yorkers," Schneiderman said in a canned statement. "The companies that dominate this industry have a responsibility to their customers to fulfill their promises to ensure safety and security."

On Monday, Schneiderman sent letters to Apple, Google's Motorola division, Microsoft, and Samsung, asking each to send representatives to his offices to discuss possible technological solutions to the mobile-snatching problem, which he termed "Apple picking".

"In particular, I seek to understand why companies that can develop sophisticated handheld electronics ... cannot also create technology to render stolen devices inoperable and thereby eliminate the expanding black market in which they are sold," the letters explained.

The escalation in phone and tablet thefts in New York in recent years has been well documented, with one New York Police Department spokesman going as far as to describe Apple kit, in particular, as a "magnet for crime."

According to NYPD records, at least 11,447 iOS devices were stolen in the Big Apple in the first nine months of 2012 alone.

Worldwide, other cities have seen similar trends. Between April and September of 2012, some 56,680 handsets were snatched in London, half of which were iPhones. And in San Francisco, smartphone thefts now account for nearly half of all robberies.

In his letters, Schneiderman stressed that many such incidents turn violent. New York fanbois and girls have been stabbed and mugged at gunpoint, and in at least one incident in April 2012, a man was killed over his iPhone, the letters claim.

Schneiderman went on to note that while each of the mobile makers in question has advertised the "security" features of its smartphones as a way to create goodwill among its customers, those features have generally been limited to data security, and not the safety of the smartphone owner.

He even went as far as to suggest that technology companies might have a financial disincentive to protect their customers from robberies.

"I would be especially concerned if device theft accrues to your company's financial benefit through increased sales of replacement devices," Schneiderman wrote. "A recent study found that lost and stolen cell phones cost consumers over $30 billion last year."

Not everyone agrees that this is a problem that can be tackled at the city level. In September 2012, St. Louis, Missouri, mayor Francis Slay said, "It will take a national solution to make this problem go away."

Still, Schneiderman plans to give it his best shot. He has enlisted mobile security firm Lookout to advise the City of New York on the issues, and has asked the handset vendors to arrange to meet with his office "at their earliest convenience." ®

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