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Profiting from Loss, Theft & Other Sustainable Business Models

Shanghai: its out there

I had the good fortune to lose my iPhone 4 this week, left in a taxi whilst juggling small child, the usual thing. In China if you’re armed with the taxi receipt it’s easy to trace the driver by calling their controller and asking to be patched through.

If the driver wanted to talk about it.

Which he didn’t.

So, no I didn’t get the phone back.

I did however get to enjoy watching the phone bouncing around Shanghai using the find-my-iPhone app that supports: location-tracking (along with messaging to the phone screen and playing a loud alert; remote locking and remote wiping of the phone’s memory). There’s something quite hypnotic about watching a little piece of your life head up the Yannan Expressway, linger at Hongqiao Airport, before heading over to Pudong.

Hypnotic in a rattler sort of way.

Given that Apple knows who you are, where the phone is and potentially when it is reported lost or stolen* what is stopping them from remote disabling phones that appear on the secondary market? And to extrapolate: how much money does Apple make from lost and stolen iPhones?

Rough equation:
# of iPhones in circulation that support find-my-iPhone = X
# of iPhones lost or stolen every year = Y
% of Y that repurchase a new iPhone = Z

Of course the person doing the losing needs to take responsibility for losing. The bigger picture is this: as the strands that connect us to the things that we own become more visible, trackable, remote-trackable it changes how we define loss and theft, and ultimately where the responsibility lies.

* Apple or any network operator. It is possible to clone a SIM or the ESN depending on the network, although the practice is not widespread.