Dateline NBC’s Report on Stolen iPods

So, unsurprisingly, lots of iPods get stolen. And when Dateline set up hidden cameras and left seemingly-new still-in-the-box iPods laying around on benches and other public places, people took them. They tracked them by including custom installer CDs with the iPods, which reported back to Dateline the address used to register the iPods with iTunes.

Dateline, along with some of the people they interviewed whose iPods have been stolen, argues that Apple should be using this data to track all 110 million (and counting) iPods they’ve sold.

Would it be possible for Apple to do something about this? Yes. Easy or simple? No. (a) It’d be an enormous amount of work for Apple; and (b) how would it not be a privacy nightmare? Imagine all the iPods given to ex-boyfriends / ex-girlfriends / ex-spouses that would be reported as “stolen”.

Here’s the part of Dateline’s report I love most:

We should say that many of iPod’s competitors in the MP3 market apparently don’t do anything more than Apple does to track missing machines.

By which they mean that none of Apple’s competitors in the MP3 player market do anything to track stolen players.

Intriguingly, the story ends on a positive note, reporting on a patent Apple recently applied for:

Just recently came word from the U.S. Patent Office that Apple has applied for a new patent. In its application, Apple confirms that there is a “serious problem” with iPod theft and that iPod owners have been seriously injured or even murdered for their iPods. And the company has proposed an ingenious solution to the problem: essentially, you can’t recharge the iPod or the new iPhone if you can’t prove the device is yours when you hook it up to iTunes.

Dateline’s approval of which is curious — or at least shortsighted — given that, if approved, Apple could use such a patent to prevent any other gadget maker from implementing theft-deterring device tracking. Hooray for software patents.