Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Isn't Apple More Helpful When Your Stuff Is Stolen?

My Macbook Air was stolen last week. Right after lunch, some guy walked into our small office through a back door that somebody left open and walked out with my laptop. There are extremely sucky aspects to this, but -- for the purposes of this post -- the most significant one is how surprisingly unhelpful Apple is when your device gets stolen.

Sure, when you go to the Apple store, they can look back through historical aspects of your account. They know enough about your devices to determine whether your warranty is valid -- probably more. But how much of that do they share with you?

When your Laptop is stolen, one of the first things you think about is the "Find My Phone" functionality. More recently, Apple added this functionality for Macs (Location Services) and I thought I had enabled it at some point, but -- either because of the sleep issues or perhaps I didn't successfully enable it, it wasn't active.

That being said, while finding the top result for Find My iPhone has information about the functionality, there is no login point on this page. In fact, most of the links in this area of their site won't take you to a login page. Need to log into find my phone? Better try another search.

Find My Phone
To use Find My Phone, you need to use the App on your phone or iPad -- or log into iCloud. Do you want to log into iCloud? You won't find that by searching iCloud login either. You know who does a better job of pointing to the iCloud login page? Google. Here's where Google takes you. Once upon a time, Apple used to have a login link on the main pages of the site... but I digress.

Of course, the problem with Find My Phone in iCloud is that, if your location services isn't enabled, the software has no idea about your system. Your history of devices? No. No access to any of that information. Sure I've authenticated and Apple thinks it's me, but other than access to your iCloud storage and apps, you get nothing. Contrast that to Amazon, where I have access to the history of things that I've ordered.

How about from the Support menu? What you'll find here is crap too. The only time I could actually find helpful information was at https://supportprofile.apple.com. This will provide you with a login page and, correspondingly, access do some of the devices associated with that Apple ID. Once logged in here, I was actually able to get my device serial number.

And what kind of support do you find in the Apple Discussion Groups (other links that Google found)? Here's what they have under "Report Stolen Laptop" on their support forum. And to quote Ryan's question to the Apple response, "I don't see why they couldn't have some sort of feature for this in their portal app for when the look up the serial numbers to see if computers are still under warannty, etc." You'll also find this information there:
Sorry but Apple does not have a flagging process for reporting stolen property. They recommend that if you have lost an Apple product you contact your local law enforcement agency to report it.
Off to the Local Apple Store
You might think that, your device having been stolen, you could head to the Apple Store and get some helpful assistance from the from Apple, possibly doing a remote wipe on the system or something. While the guys at the Genius bar are actually willing to talk to you when you tell them, "my Macbook was stolen and so I need your help to lock it down". They will then direct you to one of their systems and help you log into iCloud so that you can use the "Find my Phone" app on their system. Beyond that, not much help.

Changing the password your Apple ID forces anything that accesses your existing Apple ID to use the new password -- helpful to prevent stray devices from accessing your Apple universe -- but providing little help beyond that.

The "Open Letter to Apple and Tim Cook" Portion of the Post
The idea that Apple has no way to "flag" the serial number of a device is flat out ludicrous. Any time your apple device is connected to a network, it shares a number of communications with Apple. Any time it connects to an Apple ID, it shares data about the user, the device they are connecting from, and more. There is even geographic information shared. Some of this is the stuff you enable with location services, so while the idea of "my system is HERE" may not be straightforward, their systems have to have some access history.

But beyond location, the idea that you, Apple, can't flag a device serial number and say "this device was stolen" is bullshit. What you're saying is that you can't add another field into your database - a simple checkbox to "flag" the system. What would you do with such a flag you might ask. Well considering that, unlike most PC vendors, most Apple devices go through Apple for service, it hardly seems far-fetched to raise an alert if a system with a history that includes being stolen comes into your store.

In the end though, what is the most mind-boggling is that for me -- as a long-time customer who has bought numerous Apple devices over the years and as someone who has authenticated my identity with the company repeatedly -- that I can't go to a page that contains electronic records of all of the systems I've told you that I owned. Like a Facebook timeline, I should be able to see my history of everything, every device, every serial number, and maybe even the times when I've brought them in for service. And if there was a page like that, when my device died or was stolen, I'd probably go in and update it's status.

And why do you have so many portals and so many identities that don't seem to talk to one another?

Honestly, the reason that it comes up (and you can find it if you search on Google) is that we, your customers expect that kind of service from you. We expect better than this... this wave at the problem and say, "bummer for you. Sorry we can't help." Because the result is a sad Mac face on an already sad customer.

One More Thing...
I wrote this post prior to the release of this large number of nude celebrity photos, personal pictures allegedly stolen from their iCloud accounts. For more on that, you can read this, this, or this. While I must say that I have my doubts that all of this data was grabbed from Apple's iCloud, my purpose in referencing it is to underscore the broader thematic message pointed at Apple -- we expect better from you.

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