Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sync early, sync often.

Update: the phone wasn't stolen after all, I somehow lost it and it somehow didn't ring when called. But this post has some interesting ideas anyway.

It's entirely my own fault. I had my iPhone in an outside jacket pocket, without being aware of this fact, in a bar, at night, in a not-so-great neighborhood, in big city in a recession, while speaking a foreign language.

So I deserve no sympathy. iPhones are stolen from better people every day.

However, it does get me thinking about a few things.

Always remember you have no automatic sync.

Of course you know that you have to connect your iPhone to your computer in order to synchronize your contacts and such. And of course it's annoying, so of course you put it out of your mind.

I just lost a week's worth of vacation pictures, and one very important phone number. I can recover about three of the pictures, which I had e-mailed to people, and I'm pretty sure I can get the phone number through a mutual friend.

But if I'd just bothered to sync once a day I would be in much better shape. And I did charge the phone, so I have no excuse: I was simply too lazy to bother with a daily sync.

Identity theft: what to do about the risk?

I was using a PIN code to prevent easy access to my iPhone. I was able to deactivate the number and reset my e-mail password without incident.

But there's still a large amount of personal data on that phone, most of it unencrypted. E-mail, address book, photos, bookmarks...

I think it's reasonably safe to assume the thieves will reset it, hardware unlock it, and sell it for about $500 on the local grey market. There's plenty of demand, and identity theft is hard work.

On the other hand there's no way to be sure somebody won't do the work and have acces to that frighteningly detailed archive of your life.

In principle this is no different than having your notebook stolen. And that's a good reminder: always encrypt your home directory and always back up your important data. (Note to self: use FileVault on the private Mac just like I do on the work Mac, as soon as I get home.)

But the iPhone doesn't have FileFault, at least not that I'm aware of. I never gave it much thought, but now it strikes me as a really bad idea to not encrypt application data in (at least) Mail and Notes.

The lack of unlocked iPhones makes theft worse, not better.

Finally, I'm convinced that theft would be a much smaller problem if provider-neutral (SIM-unlocked) iPhones were readily available.

I am quite sure that most of the gray market in iPhones is for people who want to use them with other carriers. This is particularly true in Europe, where the entire network is GSM and 3G coverage is excellent, but Apple only partners with (usually) a single carrier in each country.

It would also make life a lot easier for the theft victim. I'm still traveling for two weeks, and now I have to travel iPhonelessly.

If I could easily buy an unlocked iPhone, I could use it for the rest of my trip and then get my SIM card replaced as soon as I return to the US. It would vastly reduce the inconvenience to me, the customer, and it would make money for Apple.

But of course it would make less money for AT&T.

*Sigh* - off to ebay to look for my stolen phone.

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