NEWS

Stolen or Lost Gadget's Owners Frustrated by Manufacturers' Policies

By Matthew Harwood

Owners of lost or stolen hi-end gadgets—such as Amazon's Kindle, smartphones, and Internet radios— have discovered an enraging, frustrating fact: the manufacturer knows where their property is but will not do much to help them get it back, reports The New York Times.

... many tech companies will not disclose information about the new owners of missing devices unless a police officer calls with a search warrant. Even a request to simply shut down service — which would deter thieves by rendering their pilfered gadget useless — is typically refused.The problem, which nobody had to deal with before smartphones and satellite radios, has reached new heights with the Kindle reader from Amazon, with its ability to download books wirelessly and store hundreds of titles on a single device.

One Kindle customer, Samuel Borgese of Manhattan, discovered to his chagrin that Amazon would not render his device inoperable, or "brick it" in tech speak, after he left it on a plane. The company also said it needed a police subpoena before it could give out any information regarding the location of the device. An Amazon spokesman told the Times that Amazon is only following the law.

Amazon isn't the only company with this type of policy. Sirius XM Radio also will not deactivate or locate a missing or stolen device without a subpoena. The logic of this is twofold according to a spokesman: protect the original subscriber as well as not implicate the new owner of the device in a crime, when that person may have come into possession of the device legally.

These practices differ from those of America's cross-Atlantic cousin. In England, mobile phone manufacturers keep a centralized "black list" of lost or stolen cell phone serial numbers so they cannot be activated by someone other than the rightful owner. In the United States, however, wireless service providers subsidize the price of the cell phone so much that theft isn't a big problem, reports the Times.

Borgese, a former software executive, says there's an easy solution to his Kindle problem. When someone tries to register a secondhand Kindle, Amazon should send an e-mail to the original owner, asking whether or not he has sold or given his device to another party.


♦ Photo of Amazon's Kindle and Sony's eBook by jblyberg/Flickr

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