Apple is tracking looted iPhones and snitching to the cops

Stealing iPhones in the age of iCloud is a fool's errand.

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In case anyone is thinking about taking advantage of recent riots to nab yourself a free iPhone, think again. According to BBC, Apple is tracking and disabling iPhones that have been looted from its stores. When powered on, the phones display an ominous message that reads, "This device has been disabled and is being tracked. Local authorities will be alerted."

The message also asks holders of the phones to return them to the Apple Store from where they came, though it's hard to imagine they'll do that rather than simply tossing it in the river. Apple likely cares more about sending a message than actually getting the phones back.

The market for stolen iPhones is nil — Stealing iOS devices has become a fool's errand in recent years as iCloud and FindMy have made it easy for owners to remotely lock and disable their devices, rendering them effectively useless. Apple can easily use the serial number of any iPhone to lock it as soon as it connects to the internet. After the company implemented a remote locking feature in 2013, thefts of iPhones dropped by as much as 50 percent in some cities.

It's unclear how many Apple retail locations have been broken into since the protests and subsequent looting began, but many retail businesses have prepared for mayhem by closing and boarding up their windows with thick wood panels. The closures come at an unfortunate time as some businesses, including Apple, had just begun reopening with limited service as states lift their coronavirus restrictions. Apple said last week that almost half of its U.S. stores would be open by the weekend. Many of those stores are once again closed for the time being.

The morality of stealing in current times — Some have argued the morality of looting an Apple Store during these times, saying that Apple already steals from Americans by avoiding taxes. Whether doing so is right or wrong may depend on who you are and your motivations for pushing back against a system that has for centuries kept certain groups from getting ahead. Proponents say such drastic measures may be appropriate as the situation for African Americans remains frustratingly static.

Protests began following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and have continued as the public calls for police reform and the end to racial injustices. President Trump has used examples of looting to discredit the movement and threaten extreme action against protesters, saying in a tweet, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

Apple published a letter on its website earlier Thursday in which CEO Tim Cook called the killing of Floyd "senseless" and said that the "fear, hurt, and outrage rightly provoked" by it are to be expected, and due to "a much longer history of racism," including systemic prejudice in the criminal justice, education, and healthcare systems. Apple has been releasing reports on diversity within its ranks since 2017, and Cook has worked hard to rectify the imbalances, though its executive leadership is still very white.