No. 975
May 8th, 2011

Some Thoughts on Smartphones

Pretty much the only thing that’s gone less than perfectly on my two-month trip overseas is that my iPhone was stolen here in Birmingham on Friday evening.  I was sitting at a Starbucks, actually on a Skype call with Mike Blumenthal, when a tag-team of two highschoolers came over.  One of them distracted me by pretending to ask me to look something up for him on my laptop while his mate swiped my phone–a fact which I only discovered 10 minutes later as I was packing up my things.

Obviously, after the initial shock and incredible disappointment, I’ve had some time to think about the situation & felt like writing my thoughts publicly.

Theft-Related Lessons for Smartphone Owners

Based on my experiences, here are a few tips I would encourage every reader who owns a smartphone to utilize, that I wish I’d done with mine:

  1. Never charge your phone in a public place. Always wait to get back to your house or your hotel room.  If your phone is out of juice and you absolutely need it, make sure it charges either in your pocket or in your hand at all times.
  2. When you get a new phone, make sure to install an app like MobileMe or FindMyIPhone or something that will let you track the device from a desktop later on.  Those might even be the same programs, I don’t know that much about them.  All I know is that I didn’t set anything up when I first got my phone.  It seems to me this kind of app should be the first thing you install, before you even set up your email or Facebook app on your new phone. If I had spent an extra 10 minutes setting up my phone several months ago, the police would have been able to track it immediately on Friday afternoon and (probably) not only recovered the phone but nailed the thieves.  And if you have a phone now without some kind of app like these installed, take five minutes and install them now.
  3. Even if it’s a hassle, require a mobile password for your email program every time you check it. This would have saved me 99% of my headache this weekend.  But, as a result, I didn’t know which passwords the thieves might have gotten access to in my email archive, if they were able to login before I changed the password via my laptop.
  4. Use a different password for your main email account(s), Facebook account, and financial accounts at least. I’ve since made these changes, of course, but I would have had a lot fewer of them to worry about if all they’d gotten access to was my Gmail password.
  5. Attach your App Store (and any other mobile payment accounts) to a credit card that you can cancel immediately, rather than a debit account. Personally, I HATE credit cards.  If they’re not the primary, then they’re the secondary reason for the financial crisis we’re still in the middle of.  I have always paid for everything with cash, and if I can’t cover the cost of an item with what I have in the bank, then I don’t buy it.  Maybe I was naively principled to attach a debit account to mobile payments, but I know there are at least a couple of SEOs out there, from talking with them at conferences and such, who feel the same way I do about our whacked-out credit system.

Implications for My Perception of Mobile Payments and Mobile Banking Apps

As nice as it would be not to have to carry a wallet around, I’m going to think twice about NFC or QR-code related payments going forward.  Ironclad fingerprint validation is going to have to be absolutely essential if this concept is going to work.  And although I don’t keep up with this side of the mobile payment space as much as I should, there’s nothing out there I’ve heard of that seems to be even within a couple of years of this happening.

If anything, this whole episode has taught me that I want much less, not more, not even the same amount of personal information stored on my phone whenever I decide to replace it, so count me among those who will never use a mobile banking (or mobile stock portfolio) app of any kind, no matter how good the security is promised to be.


Does anyone else have any security or anti-theft suggestions they would be willing to share for other smartphone owners?