Apple could largely stop iPod theft…should it?

As I heard tonight about another kid dying because he was mugged for his iPod, I thought again about the three GPSs I’ve had stolen from my own car, and how the companies that make both products could have probably prevented the crimes from ever taking place.

Simply put, both Apple and Tom Tom have a registration database of customers and device serial numbers. If they were to require activation of the units in question (and let’s imagine the database and devices were secured enough to not be easily broken or renumbered), it would be possible to refuse activation of known stolen devices, and to disable previously activated devices that were reported stolen. For instance, an iPod could be made to check in with a remote server to verify its activation before it was synched with a new music library, or a GPS could interact with a satellite signal to confirm activation status, much the same way as traffic reports are done now. In a world like this, stolen iPods and GPS units would become largely worthless, and there’d be no sense in stealing them. For much the same reason, car thieves largely don’t bother stealing radios with XM/Sirius transmitters: those radios can simply be shut off after the fact, so they’re worthless on the resale market.

So why doesn’t Apple implement such a scheme? I can think of any number of reasons, ranging from user inconvenience, not wanting to take on the enforcement role, or the fact that the costs of such a system would all fall on them, while the present system actually benefits Apple in the sick sense that they actually make money when a stolen iPod is replaced. Ditto for Tom Tom and Garmin. Generally, you don’t convince someone to take on a task when they’d take on all the cost and suffer financially as a result.

And yet, if companies in these situations did work to prevent the use of stolen property in this way, it’d present a huge societal good…which is the fancy-pants way of saying I wouldn’t have had to replace a couple of car windows and some kid would still be alive if there was no point stealing his iPod.

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