On Wednesday, Apple’s new operating system, iOS 7, was released. Among iOS 7’s bells and whistles is a new feature called Activation Lock that will make it more difficult for thieves to resell stolen iPhones–and it comes to users thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
On an April evening last year, 26-year-old Hwang Yang was walking home from his job at the Museum of Modern Art when he was shot and killed by a robber. His iPhone later surfaced on Craigslist, put up for sale for just $400.
Yang’s story is one of the examples of serious iPhone crimes invoked by Schneiderman, who has been working for over a year on a solution to stop them, with the help of George Gascón. Gascón is district attorney in San Francisco, a city that, like New York, has seen a rapid increase in smartphone-related crimes in the last two years.
The statistics for New York are actually pretty staggering–70% of cell phones stolen on New York City subways and buses are iPhones. And it’s a crime that continues to rise–during a 9-month period in 2012, 11,447 iOS devices, including iPhones, were reported stolen, which was an increase of more than 3,000 over the previous year.
The Attorney General calls it “Apple Picking,” and he hopes Activation Lock, the feature he lobbied Apple to include in this latest operating system update, will help put a stop to it.
Activation Lock, according to Apple, will make it necessary to enter an Apple ID to complete a variety of functions–the kind of functions a thief might attempt before reselling your iPhone, like turning off “Find My iPhone,” erasing the phone, reactivating it and signing out of iCloud.
In a statement to the Voice on Wednesday, Schniederman called Activation Lock, “an important step forward in the effort to stem the rise of smartphone thefts.”
“We must reduce the incentive to steal by lowering the value of stolen devices. We will find all possible solutions to eliminate instances of violent street crime targeting innocent consumers.”
Because Activation Lock part of the new operating system, it will be available on older phones as well as new ones.
The only caveat–and its a pretty big caveat–according to the Attorney General’s office, is that “the success of Activation Lock is largely dependent on the failure of hackers’ rumored exploits.”
Earlier this summer, the two offices ordered a “stress test”–inviting cyber security experts to try and hack Activation Lock. At the time, Schneiderman and Gascón said they weren’t going to take Apple at its word, instead “we will assess the solutions they are proposing and see if they stand up to the tactics commonly employed by thieves.”
But the test must not have gone very well–Schneiderman and Gascón initially said their offices would release the results, but after it was completed they backpedaled, keeping them private instead.
That might be part of the reason the two officials issued a cautious joint statement on Wednesday applauding Activation Lock, but calling on Apple to do more to deter theft, and urging the tech giant “to make Activation Lock a fully opt-out solution in order to guarantee widespread adoption.”