Bicoastal summit to gather industry officials to get answers and press for action on technology to deter theft
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have announced they will convene a "Smartphone Summit" next week with representatives of four of the largest players in the smartphone industry, to begin to address the epidemic of violent street crimes known as "apple-picking."
Communities across the U.S. are seeing a spike in the violent theft of mobile phones and other electronic devices. Thieves wipe the devices' memories clean and resell them for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market.
At the meeting, which will take place on June 13 at Schneiderman's office in New York City, Gascón and Schneiderman will press cell phone manufacturers and mobile operating system suppliers on their failure thus far to produce technology that would allow stolen devices to be rendered permanently inoperable and that would, therefore, eliminate incentives for theft. Representatives from Apple, Google/Motorola, Samsung and Microsoft will attend.
"With 1.6 million Americans falling victim to smartphone theft in 2012, this has become a national epidemic," Gascón said. "Unlike other types of crimes, smartphone theft can be eradicated with a simple technological solution."
"The theft of handheld devices is the fastest-growing street crime and, increasingly, incidents are turning violent," Schneiderman said. "It's time for manufacturers to be as innovative in solving this problem as they have been in designing devices that have reshaped how we live."
According to a recent Time magazine report, New York City saw a 40 percent increase in mobile thefts in 2012. A Harris poll of phone owners found that nearly 10 percent said their phone had been stolen at one point, and a recent study found that lost and stolen cell phones cost consumers more than $30 billion last year.
In too many cases, the AG said, device theft turns violent. Consider some recent examples:
•On April 19, 2012, a 26-year-old chef at the Museum of Modern Art was killed for his iPhone on his way home to the Bronx.
•In September, in three separate incidents, women were violently attacked for Apple and Samsung devices.
•On Feb. 21, a 6-year-old San Francisco boy was robbed of his mother's iPhone while sitting outside a Bayview church during services.
•Recently, on May 21, a 27-year-old tourist in San Francisco sustained severe knife wounds to his face and throat after being robbed by two men over his iPhone.
•On Feb. 19, two men violently attacked a 16-year-old girl for her iPhone in San Francisco's Sunset District.
•In February, three people were stabbed on a subway platform in Queens in a fight over an iPhone.
•Earlier this month, a woman was mugged at gunpoint in Crown Heights for her Android device.
On May 10, Schneiderman sent letters to the CEOs of Apple, Google/Motorola, Microsoft and Samsung seeking information about the companies' efforts to protect customers from "apple-picking." These companies control more than 90 percent of the market for mobile electronic devices. In response to those letters, all four companies agreed to attend the "Smartphone Summit."
Last year, approximately 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involved a mobile communications device. In response, Gascón began meeting with carriers and manufacturers in December to put pressure on industry executives to implement a "kill switch" - a technological solution that would render the phone inoperable.