iPhone Stolen – Again

by Colin Berkshire

When does a corporation have an ethical responsibility to its customers? Is it right for a company to profit by encouraging customer losses? Some would say that a company’s responsibility is simply to comply with the laws and to return a profit. But at some point does it cross the line to where the company is unethical? Or, evil? The perfect example is Apple. They run a multi-hundred million dollar a year business based solely upon the loss and misery of their customers. While wearing the halo of being a good company in white, the truth boarders on sinister.

That business is iPhone theft, and Apple’s seeming intentional encouragement of it.

If you have ever been to Asia with an iPhone you have been a target of the most clever, skilled, and seasoned iPhone thieves imaginable. Trust me, they know how to get into your pockets to steal your iPhone. I know of many people who have had their iPhones stolen in Asia. I have lost three of them in this past year…and I am a highly conscientious traveler. I use zippered pockets and a passcode. Zippers are no obstacle.

So why am I blaming Apple for creating a product so wonderful that thieves would prefer to steal it over a car? Aren’t the thieves to blame?  –no. And, that is where the ethics of a corporation come in to play. You see, Apple seems to have made an explicit decision to encourage and accommodate the stolen iPhone underground. It is hugely profitable for them to sell replacement iPhones. Let me explain…

When an IPhone is stolen the first thing a thief does is take out the SIM card. They then do a factory reset on the phone. If the phone has a passcode the thief simply enters the passcode ten times and the factory reset is automatically done for them. It is trivially easy to factory reset an iPhone for a new customer.

Now, when a phone is factory reset it must be re-activated. All reset phones must be activated by the Apple server. This activation loads in, unlocks, and other features, and it is there to protect Apple.

Apple could, and Apple should check to see if the iPhone is stolen before reactivating the phone. If the phone is armed as stolen then the reactivation should be denied. And, Apple knows when a phone is stolen because there is a “lost” mode in the Find-My-iPhone feature. A customer who has registered their iPhone with Find-My-IPhone and has marked it as being lost should be assured that the phone cannot be reactivated until the lost mode is canceled. It would be trivial to do.

Anti-theft modes of car radios have proven effective at stopping thieves from stealing radios. Other products have anti-theft modes. So, anti-theft isn’t a new concept.

Apple is a company that thinks of every conceivable feature. They endlessly discuss every screen pixel and button. So it is inconceivable that they have not considered anti-theft features on iPhones.

There is only one reasonable conclusion and that is that the stolen iPhone business is so extremely profitable for Apple that they choose to encourage it. They have explicitly decided to profit at their customer’s expense because, well, it is a multi-hundred-million dollar business for them.

And, that is why the question of corporate ethics is relevant. If Apple takes no steps to include anti-theft features–knowing that it is a hugely profitable business–then aren’t they making the ethical choice to hurt their customers solely to gain extra profits? That is unethical by my book.

Sometime in the past twenty or thirty years business in America transitioned to a model where all parties need to act responsibly in society. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, you can’t leave a wire that is a trip-line across a sidewalk, you need to protect employees and customers from reasonable dangers. That is how modern society works.

Apple has seemingly put a friendly, smiling face mask over a twisted sense of ethics.

The problem is so severe in some SE Asian countries that I hear that tourists are being mugged…solely for their iPhones. Apple customers are being physically harmed just so that Apple can profit.

I love Apple products, and especially the iPhone. But when I have had three iPhones stolen within the past single year, it is too much to stand. I am exceedingly careful. But the temptation is too great for Asian thieves. They can earn a year’s salary from a single theft. That is too much temptation.

And, it burns me that this entire illicit trade could be entirely shut down if Apple even cared. When an iPhone is in “Lost” mode it should not be able to be reactivated. That would make a stolen iPhone worthless. That would end the iPhone theft business.

And, if Apple really cared, they would also prevent access to the App Store, or notifications from any device which is in “Lost” mode. It would be a simple change. But for Apple, it would be an expensive one of lost profits.

Do corporations have an ethical obligation? I think so.