Major U.S. Carriers Agree to Develop Centralized Database to Track Stolen Mobile Phones

rjohnstone

macrumors 68040
Dec 28, 2007
3,483
3,399
PHX, AZ.
Blocking network access to stolen phones is an easy, common sense first step. Carriers should also be required to remotely lock down these devices and require ownership verification for future use.

Nobody has any right to use a stolen phone, no matter how they obtained it, and purchasing stolen items is also illegal. The phone carriers have been profiting off of service plans and replacement sales of stolen phones for too long. The carriers must deny service to any stolen device.

Anyone purchasing a used phone should be able to check the database to confirm the phone isn't stolen. An improvement to system would involve a database of IMEI's for verified phones that are for sale. This could provide phone buyers a way to confirm that the original owner is selling the phone, rather than relying on whether the phone has been reported stolen yet.

Ultimately the carriers and police should track and seize these stolen phones whenever possible. The government and phone companies already have the ability to track all smart phones if they need to.

To assume otherwise and believe that this would represent a new threat to your privacy is naive.

If you don't want to be tracked, don't buy a gps phone.
Locking down a phone by a carrier would be all but impossible. To many different types out there. It would be a logistical nightmare and expensive to maintain.
The carriers and police have better things to do than track down a phone.
Simply denying the device access to any network reduces the likelihood of it getting stolen in the first place.

And your phone doesn't have to have GPS capabilities to be tracked.
Carriers can pin you down pretty easy buy tracking tower registrations. ;)
 

Derpage

Suspended
Mar 7, 2012
451
185
The database would not allow that to happen. It would require a link back to a carrier, so that the carrier could remove a device from the database if it was recovered and the customer requested that the device be removed from the database.

When a device is reported lost or stolen, it's not always going to be gone forever. It might be that the customer finds it at the back of their sofa an hour after reporting it lost! The system must be flexible enough to deal with that.

Even if the police could access the list, they'd need to know the customer's IMEI - obtaining that would require just as much legal work as going through a legitimate channel to block the customer's device/service. If they did block the device in this manner, the customer could have the block removed in just a few minutes with a single call to their carrier. Other methods of disabling the service would be longer lasting and much simpler to implement.
What you described seems like a good way to inconvenience some people for a short ammount of time which would be good for disrupting people. However, I see what you are saying and understand. Thank you for taking the time to explain.
 

ericinboston

macrumors 68000
Jan 13, 2008
1,812
176
I really don't see the point of all this.

1)If you lose your cell phone or it's stolen...it's gone. Period. You call your carrier and they prevent YOU from being billed on that device ever again. Then you go buy a new phone. Try not to lose/have your phone stolen again. That's life.

2)The carriers are not doing this out of the kindness of their heart or a phone call from the police asking for help. What is to gain by the Carriers? Regardless if the phone is the owner's or lost/stolen, it still has to be registered on the Carrier's service (and pay a monthly fee) to use the service. At best the Carriers prevent some thieves/lucky folks from activating the free phone instead of buying one. And there's no problem at all if I activate/use a phone from my closet or a one a family member gives me for free. There must be more to the Carrier's true motives.

3)If someone finds/steals a smartphone, even if the Carriers block them, the person has a nice smartphone missing the calling capability. Everyone knows that the iPhone, for example, is not a phone...it's a mini computer that CAN ALSO MAKE CALLS. I kept my old 3GS when I upgraded to 4S...I love that the 3GS still can do 100% of what it is supposed to do other than make calls. You think thieves are going to cry when they steal a $400 iPhone and turn around and sell it as a better-than-iPod-Touch unit? I don't think so.

4)So what are the procedures in place for mis-reported items? For example, you call and report it lost/stolen and then find it 24 hours later? Is it blacklisted forever? Is there a fee to make it work again? I know a few people who have reported their phones stolen only to find them hours later and luckily didn't have a problem....so what about with this new program? How much personal info do they collect and why? (since all they truly care about is the phone ID so it can't be used again...the Carriers are not promising to help the police go get the phone if the phone tries to get activated).

5)I'm sure that a decent percentage of stolen phones will still be able to work on some(or original) carriers due to hackers altering something in the firmware to make it look like a different device or non-stolen.

I'm not saying stop this program, but I see no need for it...even if #1 was my only point. Don't lose your phone. Buy an extended warranty coverage if you think you have a good chance of losing it.

I think a better idea would be to have a Service that Apple offers that will brick the iPhone. The thief or person who found it can return it to the Apple store and Apple can contact the owner. If it's never returned, oh well. I believe Apple has something similar to this as far as software, but maybe Apple could promote it a bit more and make it as robust as possible. Maybe there's some kind of $25 non-refundable fee to report it lost/stolen so Apple recoups some of it's money for developing the software/service.
 

Daveoc64

macrumors 601
Jan 16, 2008
4,057
49
Bristol, UK
I really don't see the point of all this.

1)If you lose your cell phone or it's stolen...it's gone. Period. You call your carrier and they prevent YOU from being billed on that device ever again. Then you go buy a new phone. Try not to lose/have your phone stolen again. That's life.
There's some potential for the device to be returned to you. I've read cases of people getting their phone back here in the UK.

Besides, this is not designed to help after a device has been stolen, it's designed to make it less desirable to steal in the first place

2)The carriers are not doing this out of the kindness of their heart or a phone call from the police asking for help. What is to gain by the Carriers? Regardless if the phone is the owner's or lost/stolen, it still has to be registered on the Carrier's service (and pay a monthly fee) to use the service. At best the Carriers prevent some thieves/lucky folks from activating the free phone instead of buying one. And there's no problem at all if I activate/use a phone from my closet or a one a family member gives me for free. There must be more to the Carrier's true motives.
It's actually bad for the carriers to some extent, because they currently make money from people who are using a stolen device (perhaps unwittingly). The only benefit is that it looks like they're doing something about mobile phone theft which is a big issue. They have the technical capability to make theft less desirable - not using it isn't good for PR.

3)If someone finds/steals a smartphone, even if the Carriers block them, the person has a nice smartphone missing the calling capability. Everyone knows that the iPhone, for example, is not a phone...it's a mini computer that CAN ALSO MAKE CALLS. I kept my old 3GS when I upgraded to 4S...I love that the 3GS still can do 100% of what it is supposed to do other than make calls. You think thieves are going to cry when they steal a $400 iPhone and turn around and sell it as a better-than-iPod-Touch unit? I don't think so.
This is true, but it will certainly reduce the amount of money thieves can get for a stolen device. That could mean that theft reduces, as it's no longer as lucrative as in the past. It should also mean that the general public, not intending to buy a stolen device, are much less likely to get caught out. If the device is blocked, then they know something is wrong.

4)So what are the procedures in place for mis-reported items? For example, you call and report it lost/stolen and then find it 24 hours later? Is it blacklisted forever? Is there a fee to make it work again?
With the IMEI db (also known as the CEIR - the international stolen device database), it's trivial (and free) for the owner of a device to get it unblocked in the event that they get the device back. The US system will probably work the same way.

I know a few people who have reported their phones stolen only to find them hours later and luckily didn't have a problem....so what about with this new program? How much personal info do they collect and why? (since all they truly care about is the phone ID so it can't be used again...the Carriers are not promising to help the police go get the phone if the phone tries to get activated).
The carriers don't need to collect any personal data - they already have it. They will ask the customer for the same sort of details that they ask at the moment when you report a phone lost/stolen.

The centralised database does not need to contain the customer's personal details - merely the IMEI of the stolen device.

5)I'm sure that a decent percentage of stolen phones will still be able to work on some(or original) carriers due to hackers altering something in the firmware to make it look like a different device or non-stolen.
It's possible to do this, but it's much harder on modern devices.

I'm not saying stop this program, but I see no need for it...even if #1 was my only point. Don't lose your phone. Buy an extended warranty coverage if you think you have a good chance of losing it.
The point is that in other countries where this system has been implemented, phone thefts have decreased or stalled - despite the massive explosion in devices being sold and used.

I think a better idea would be to have a Service that Apple offers that will brick the iPhone. The thief or person who found it can return it to the Apple store and Apple can contact the owner. If it's never returned, oh well. I believe Apple has something similar to this as far as software, but maybe Apple could promote it a bit more and make it as robust as possible. Maybe there's some kind of $25 non-refundable fee to report it lost/stolen so Apple recoups some of it's money for developing the software/service.
Apple could do this very easily (using the database system proposed, or the international system that exists), but they haven't tried to do it in the 5 years that the iPhone has been on the market, so I'm not sure why they'd change that now. As others have noted, they don't seem at all bothered about stolen devices - they happily honour the warranty on devices that they know have been stolen. As with the carriers, it's not really in Apple's interests to block stolen devices - they can provide a source of revenue.
 
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kdarling

macrumors P6
Who wants to be the conspiracy theorist that thinks they are compiling this database so it is easier to track us?
The only things a list of stolen phones can possibly do, are things like making it harder for thieves to sell, and for terrorists to use as a wireless bomb trigger.

The GSMA also have this and all members have access, however it only works for GSM phones.
As noted in the article, CDMA carriers have always done lost phone blocking in the USA. No doubt mostly so that people couldn't claim a lost phone, collect an insurance replacement and then sell the original.
 

chinesedemo

macrumors regular
Oct 16, 2011
101
103
I'm not satisfied with this. I'm not convinced stolen phones aren't leaving the country, and if this is the case, the telecoms and electronics industry needs to do something-this might lower the resale value (This I love...less incentive to steal) unless you realize you can ship it to Brazil illegally and make more money than reselling it here.
Go hang out in Harlem for a few hours, take a look at where the stolen phones are going.
 

tigress666

macrumors 68040
Apr 14, 2010
3,287
15
Washington State
I really don't see the point of all this.
Easy, you don't need to be overthinking it like you just did. If the phone gets bricked when it gets stolen, and thieves start realizing that most likely that phone will get bricked, it won't be too valuable to them.

It doesn't help you after you get your phone stolen, it helps make the phone a less valuable item to thieves.
 

clibinarius

macrumors 6502a
Aug 26, 2010
665
62
NY
Go hang out in Harlem for a few hours, take a look at where the stolen phones are going.
I'm still unconvinced. Besides, lots of people could be buying them in Harlem to sneak them out of the country. And are you sure that's a majority of the phones?
 

DiamondMac

macrumors 68040
Aug 11, 2006
3,299
16
Washington, D.C.
In related news, prices for phones and data plans for these companies will increase this year/next year due to "significant improvements" by the companies...none of which will be revealed
 

idunn

macrumors 6502
Jan 12, 2008
499
400
Quite beneficial—and not

"The idea is to reduce crime by making it difficult or impossible to actually use a stolen device, reducing resale value."
- per 'Macrumors'



;) This should prove quite helpful, and a benefit to many cell phone customers.

On the flip side, however, 'crime' can be a matter of how one defines it. The U.S. government is presently prosecuting a Mr. Mehanna because it didn't like what he had to say, no more than that, and his 'crime.'

Obviously, if with access to such a database, regimes such as Mr. al Assad's of Syria, and others of similar ilk, would love to track the users of cell phones, and easily silence those it disapproves of. But there are a lot of bad actors in this world, with some of them purporting to be democracies.

Something like this happens to be a double sided coin, or sword, if you will.
 

Daveoc64

macrumors 601
Jan 16, 2008
4,057
49
Bristol, UK
Obviously, if with access to such a database, regimes such as Mr. al Assad's of Syria, and others of similar ilk, would love to track the users of cell phones, and easily silence those it disapproves of. But there are a lot of bad actors in this world, with some of them purporting to be democracies.

Something like this happens to be a double sided coin, or sword, if you will.
As already pointed out, only stolen devices are stored in the database.

You can't track someone if they don't have their phone anymore!
 

charlituna

macrumors G3
Jun 11, 2008
9,617
804
Los Angeles, CA
until thieves mask the phone's IMEI during activation and we're back to where we are now
Or they go activate it with MetroPCS etc who aren't using said database

----------

So at any time they could track a non-stolen phone?
They already can. Federal law requires that all phones have GPS and the carriers have the means at any time to locate the phone. They are only supposed to use that means with a search warrant but they have the ability to do it at any time they wish
 

robgz

macrumors newbie
Nov 3, 2011
3
0
second hand phones

It would be perfect if they can share this database on a webpage and by simply typing the IMEI number you can check if this IMEI is blacklisted or not, this will protect the buyer if you are planning in getting a phone from craigs, ebay or anyone that is willing to sell its used phone.

Now, what about this scenario.

Imagine you buy a used iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, etc phone with a clean IMEI from craigslist and then the guy that sold it to you, waits for a couple of days, and reports this phone stolen, so he can get a new one by his insurance. The IMEI of the phone you bought will get blacklisted. What would happen? How can the buyer protect himself against this issue...

Any ideas? :confused:
 

TonyC28

macrumors 68000
Aug 15, 2009
1,563
3,999
USA
Now, what about this scenario.

Imagine you buy a used iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, etc phone with a clean IMEI from craigslist and then the guy that sold it to you, waits for a couple of days, and reports this phone stolen, so he can get a new one by his insurance. The IMEI of the phone you bought will get blacklisted. What would happen? How can the buyer protect himself against this issue...

Any ideas? :confused:
It would probably be a pain in the a** for the buyer but you would have to show that you purchased the phone from someone on Craigslist. And if you can show that you purchased it legally, and that the seller reported it stolen AFTER the sale, then the seller will be the one in trouble for making a false police report.

This just seems like a great idea. I imagine for this to work the phone companies will require a police report. Yea people could report a phone stolen that really wasn't just to screw someone over, but then that person has just committed a crime by making a false police report.
 

Rodimus Prime

macrumors G4
Oct 9, 2006
10,132
4
True, and in this case the IMEI is akin to the VIN -- giving your phone number would be like giving your license plate.

.
But in both cases the licences plate you give police is link to a vin number. So giving that to the police so to speak allows them to look up what the vin number is. Swapping out the plats does not protect against that.

In this case your carrier takes your phone number to get your account number which in turn contains your IMEI numbers of the devices you have ever used on their network. All they need to know is a way to know exactly which device it was from that list. That could be device name and time span it was in use. It makes it REAL easy to get the IMEI number to do a full block.
 

Daveoc64

macrumors 601
Jan 16, 2008
4,057
49
Bristol, UK
This just seems like a great idea. I imagine for this to work the phone companies will require a police report. Yea people could report a phone stolen that really wasn't just to screw someone over, but then that person has just committed a crime by making a false police report.
That's pretty much how it works here.

Insurance fraud is one thing, but making a false statement to the police is another.
 

marcellus7

macrumors newbie
Mar 6, 2011
25
0
I hope this is a publicly accessable database or this could cause a problem when purchasing used iPhones. I bought my current iPhone off eBay and a nice lady called a few months later asking where I'd gotten it, because it had been reported stolen.
 

war eagle

macrumors 6502a
Jul 24, 2008
648
7
Don't underestimate thieves. Gangs will start buying them, and people will know where they can get cash for them, and they'll get bartered internationally for another blacklisted commodity. Too easy to get caught on Craigslist, only small timers would go there, and that's not gonna cut into the real trading of these things.
Honestly, how many phones do you see from Europe and such being sold in the US on Craiglist and such? Gangs buy and barter with or without this rule and i'm pretty sure they'd be more interested in trading guns/drugs for money instead of cell phones people lose.
 

clibinarius

macrumors 6502a
Aug 26, 2010
665
62
NY
Honestly, how many phones do you see from Europe and such being sold in the US on Craiglist and such? Gangs buy and barter with or without this rule and i'm pretty sure they'd be more interested in trading guns/drugs for money instead of cell phones people lose.
So they'll steal guns from unsuspecting people and trade them as opposed to things they can easily resell for $500 in a market where its not released. Interesting.
 

Cubytus

macrumors 65816
Mar 2, 2007
1,413
14
Ultimately the carriers and police should track and seize these stolen phones whenever possible. The government and phone companies already have the ability to track all smart phones if they need to.

To assume otherwise and believe that this would represent a new threat to your privacy is naive.

If you don't want to be tracked, don't buy a gps phone.
You don't need to buy a GPS phone for hou to be tracked. Ever heard of triangulation? That's how the 911 tracks a phone that has called in, even if it's longer and less precise than GPS. In urban environments, there's a fair chance they would never find a precise, stolen phoneusing only positioning. So, smply deactivating it makes sense.
 

war eagle

macrumors 6502a
Jul 24, 2008
648
7
So they'll steal guns from unsuspecting people and trade them as opposed to things they can easily resell for $500 in a market where its not released. Interesting.
Lol, gang members aren't just going to go around the country stealing cell phones to send overseas.
 

Wicked1

macrumors 68040
Apr 13, 2009
3,278
13
New Jersey
Although I have never lost my phone, I have a handful of friends who would gladly get back their 2, or 3, or...10 lost phones :)
One other problem, the phones will still have a market for parts, if someone steals a phone they usually give it to a third party for resale, however if they are unable to sell it, they will break it up for parts, similar to the stolen car routine.

Minus the Logic board with the main cpu, all other parts will fetch a good amount of money considering the person who stole it (a criminal anyway) will be glad to get a $100 or so for a device they paid $0.00 for.

Either way not sure this will help ppl get their stolen products back, unless they figure a way to put lojack in a small electronic device that activates when the unit is powered on.