When Someone Steals Your Smartphone, Snap a Theftie

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 29 2014 3:25 PM

When Someone Steals Your Smartphone, Snap a Theftie

lookout
Lookout makes mobile security products for Android and iOS.

Photo from Lookout.

We all know selfies. And even dronies. But if you thought it could stop there, you are deeply naive. Bring on the “thefties.”

The name may come from a cheery social phenomenon, but thefties are a little more serious. They’re photos of electronics thieves taken with a tablet or smartphone’s front-facing camera. The goal is to give police something to go on if your device is stolen, or let you ID the culprit if it's someone you know.

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The mobile security company Lookout is marketing thefties as part of its software suite for iOS and Android. The service currently sends you email alerts when it seems like someone is tampering with your device (by entering incorrect security codes, trying to uninstall software, etc.), and then GPS-tracks it so you can locate it from a browser. But now the thefties feature will also activate the device's front-facing camera and stealthily photography whoever is staring down at it. You get the photo in your inbox with a map pointing to the device's location. This is the theftie.

The FCC says that 1 in 3 U.S. robberies concerns a mobile device, and the problem has motivated legislators and the telecommunications industry to begin working on safeguards. But consumers are looking for immediate solutions. Though thefties aren't perfect, because they may not capture a clear image depending on how the thief is holding the phone, they're certainly a creative solution. But as David Richardson, Lookout's lead product manager for iOS, told CNET, "Not everyone here likes the name."

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is a staff writer and the lead blogger for Future Tense.

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