Friday, October 30, 2015

Is The Ability To Find And Secure Your Misplaced Mobile Device Important?

Apple mobile devices (indeed, computers as well) ask you to turn on location broadcasting when you first set it up.  That is, it broadcasts its location to your cloud account, so when you log in via the mobile or web app, you can locate your devices.  Further, on their mobile devices, this also enables a feature called Activation Lock.  This means, your hardware is prevented from any kind of system reset or reinstall, without first entering your cloud account password and device password, or removing it from your cloud account.  This prevents unauthorized people from, for example, swiping your device, and reinstalling it, and selling or using it like a new device.

So, the other day, my daughter walked home from the bus stop - got home, did her normal thing, had dinner, and after dinner, said "Dad, have you seen my phone?"  With an iPhone, the normal procedure is to log onto iCloud, and tap "Play Sound" on the lost device - which, it shows on a map where it is.  (By the way, if the battery is dead or it is offline, it shows the last known location when it was still connected to the network.)  The sound plays even if the phone is turned on silent, so they thought of that, of course.  She couldn't hear it, and apparently can't read maps well either.  It showed on the next street over, on the way home from the bus stop.  Sure enough, it actually showed which side of the street it was on, to an accuracy of inches.  I pulled the car over, at night, and walked to the spot on the neighbor's lawn, and voila.  There it was.  (By the way, the phone locations have been so accurate, that I have been able to look at the map, and determine if it is in the front or back side of my house.)

It occurred to me, if someone had an Android device, what would they do?  Android enthusiasts claim you can do anything and more on an Android device that you can do on an iOS device.  Is this true?  Well, turns out, not quite.  First of all, they do have a rudimentary location capability, but it has to be enabled, and it isn't by default.  It doesn't prompt you to do so on a new device (at least, not yet).  Once you enable it, you can locate it, but only if it's online, and that's all you can do.  If it is on silent, you can't play a sound.  Do you know how many times this has helped us find the iPhone or iPod that slide behind the couch cushion, or been hidden by the mischievous little brother?

Further, Android has very loose security - if someone does steal your device, they can easily root it, reinstall the OS, and voila, they have a phone or tablet they can sell or use as new.  How's that for protecting your investment in their product?  I find it disgusting.

And, what about computers?  With a Mac, it becomes much more difficult to protect from theft, as the hardware is made to be swappable and replaceable.  So a simple hard drive swap, and it's gone forever.  But, at least barring that, you can locate and possibly recover your machine if it is connected to the Internet.  Assuming the location services for IP address isn't spoofed, and works well.

So, Apple at least has a basic protection on their computers, while they have an awesome well-rounded solution on their mobile devices.  If you are angsting betwixt the fruit or the dessert brand of devices, I'd say the fruit is much healthier.