Losing your primary smartphone is like losing an arm nowadays.
The personal data that you stored on your phone, the numerous incriminating pictures of your teenage years, your social media passwords and tons of stuff that you’d probably prefer to be buried with you when you die…imagine that these things are now in the possession of someone intent on causing you harm. Bummer, eh?
Here are ways that you can use to possibly (note the term) recover your phone or at least erase your personal data before your Facebook is bombarded with “I’m gay” statuses or pictures of your childhood.
Find my iPhone is a staple of the iCloud services offered by Apple for devices with iOS 5 and newer. This is a free service that can help you get back your device or erase private data on it. However, this feature needs to be enabled first before being functional. So if you haven’t enabled it yet and your iPhone gets stolen, I think you know what the outcome will be.
Anyway, enabling it is easy. All you have to do is to go to Settings>iCloud>Account and sign in. After signing in, scroll down and you’ll find the Find my iPhone slider. Activate it. Allow the GPS tracking to turn on Find my iPhone. There, you’re set.
If your phone gets stolen (which it hopefully won’t) you only need to log in to your iCloud account. After logging in, Find my iPhone will immediately try to locate your device. If it is turned off, the map display with the last known location will be displayed and when it turns on again, the map will update. After finding the device, there are options to send a message, lock the device and delete all data.
If you manage to get your device back after deleting all data, just restore it using your latest backup.
Google has yet to release a unified search tool for lost or stolen Android phones. Fortunately for Android users, manufacturers themselves have stepped in and produced their own phone finder solutions.
Sony released my Xperia, Samsung has a Find my Mobile website and HTC has long relied on HTCSense.com to track and remotely wipe stolen phones. Be advised, though, that these solutions will only work if the phone is online.
For those who can’t get the official finders to work, you can try third-party ones like Android Lost. This is a free and feature-rich tool for those who have lost or stolen phones. After testing, it has managed to not only locate the phone and send a map link to where it is but also give the bereaved user the ability to control his lost phone like making it vibrate, set an alarm, and send commands via SMS.
The SMS function (useful if the device is not online) is a bit buggy and when I tried sending commands, the phone received them as actual text messages and not as commands. Nevertheless, the screenshot feature and the remote camera commands were fully functional. The website allowed me to take a picture using both the front-facing and rear camera, thereby, if this phone is ever lost, I can take a picture of whoever is currently in possession of it.
Furthermore, the remote user can turn on Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth and sound of the lost phone. There are also “return-friendly” functions such as a message overlay that will appear throughout the user interface. The owner can send a message such as a number to call to facilitate the return of the stolen, er, lost device. A boot message is also available with the same function.
Android Lost is a viable alternative to the manufacturers’ phone finders due to the immense number of features that it has. However, some users might be leery of the degree of control that the app has, considering the on-going PRISM scandal the government is facing these days.
For Microsoft’s mobile OS, finding your lost phone is much easier because it involves just registering your Windows Live account on windowsphone.com without requiring the installation of a particular program.
After signing in to your account, click Explore on the top right side of the webpage and a drop down menu will show options such as Account Settings, Find my Phone and Purchase History. Click Find my Phone. Be advised, though, that like its counterparts on iOS and Android, these functions only work if the phone is online and if you want to see where your phone is, the GPS has to be turned on.
If the phone is found, an interactive map will display the location of your stolen phone. It’s fairly accurate, off by perhaps a few yards. It all depends on how Bing Maps work for your state since Microsoft does not use Google Maps. There are traffic and Bird’s Eye views as well as options to print the map.
You can also choose whether you want your phone locked or erased. You can add a personalized message if you lock your phone, though it’s only limited to 160 characters. The person who has your phone can only unlock it if he knows your PIN. Opting to Ring it, the phone will ring even if it’s on silent or vibrate while Erase will, naturally, delete all of your files and user data on your stolen Windows Phone.
Be Careful Next Time
So much hassle for a tiny slab of silicon, eh? Losing your phone will probably be a traumatic experience for you, considering that phones nowadays are like techie investments. Who wants to lose $700 anyway?
It’s great that there are ways in which a user can erase his/her personal data and even render the phone temporarily unusable (there are workarounds, sadly) and cost the thief some money or time trying to unlock your phone. A thief with a little technical knowledge and a working internet connection will be able to get the locked phone working in no time. Shame, right?
If it’s any consolation, that guy/thief/scoundrel that has your phone now at least won’t have the satisfaction of laughing at your Senior Prom pictures.
I want to share another option that works even if the phone is not turned on and after the battery has gone dead. Okoban tracker tags let someone who finds your lost stuff contact you directly without exposing your private information. I use them on almost everything I take when I travel after one of the tags was responsible for getting my lost passport returned to me in Rome one time. You can get them at mystufflostandfound.com