Dealing with a lost mobile device

Smartphones and tablets are powerful tools allowing us instant connectivity to nearly all of our personal and professional data. In the right hands they make for a great business tool, but what happens when they disappear? We’ve seen the stories of people tracking down lost devices. We may even revel in the idea of being an Internet PI but in reality, if our device is lost or stolen our first priority is to protect the data.

Step one is to have a screen lock turned on. To help you complete this step, our post on creating strong mobile device passwords will help. This will slow down any would be snoopers who may have found, or stolen your phone.

Next have the ability to locate and wipe your phone. For this to be successful, it’s critical that you go about setting this up before your phone is lost (if you’re on Android, see below). Once you’ve lost control of the device it’s too late, and unlike cell phones of yesteryear, calling your cellular provider does nothing to protect you. Depending on your device, the set-up and use of the locate and wipe features differ.

Windows Phone:

Setup – During your phone setup you were asked for a Windows Live ID to create a Windows Phone account. When you did this, it automatically registered your phone and enabled locate and wipe capabilities. If you want to check or modify these settings on your phone, visit settings – system – find my phone.

Use – Visit www.windowsphone.com and login with your Windows Live ID and select the My Phone option. Your device will be listed in the left column with a location map and options for erasing the data.

iOS Devices:

Unfortunately Apple keeps moving this feature within the OS, in versions prior to iOS 5 the feature was located under MobileMe. It’s now part of iCloud.

Setup – During your iPhone setup you will be asked to enter or create your Apple ID. You will then be asked if you would like to use iCloud. If you choose to use iCloud, you will be prompted with several options. The very last one on the list will be Find My iPhone. Turn this on and the location and wipe services will be enabled. If you would like to edit or enable this after the set-up process select Settings – iCloud, to access the same set of services.

Use – Visit www.icloud.com and login with your Apple ID and select the Find My iPhone icon. Select your device to see it on the map, and then select the information icon to see the option for remote wipe. You can also download a free Find My iPhone app in the App Store if you carry multiple mobile devices and wish to find one from the other.

Android:

While the Android system has the ability to remotely find and lock/wipe your phone for you, unless you’re on a Google Apps account (in which case your administrator will have this ability via Google’s website), you’ll have to do a little bit of work with third-party apps.

Setup – There are several options, but here are some of the most popular:

  • Lookout Security & Antivirus: Just download the app and follow its on-screen directions to create an account and set up security settings. Lookout provides free antivirus, app anti-malware scans, contact backup and restores, and remote device location (including the ability to activate an alarm on the phone) via www.myLookout.com. For an additional fee ($29.99/year or $2.99/month), you’ll get browser and text message phishing/malware protection, remote lock and wipe, app privacy advisor, and photo and call history backup and restore.
  • Where’s My Droid: Download and setup is simple here as well: Just download, run, and follow the directions. With Where’s My Droid, you get device location, remote ring/vibrate, passcode protection, notifications of changes to SIM card/phone number, and a few similar features, and they can be activated via its website, www.WheresMyDroid.com, or stealth (hidden) text message. For an additional $3.99, you gain the ability to remotely lock the device, wipe the phone and the SD card, activate it via a landline, and customize the “lost” ringtone.
  • Plan B: Made by the creators of Lookout, Plan B is a free one trick pony that leverages Google’s feature to install apps via the Market website. Setup is simple: log into market.android.com with your Google account, click the button to make Plan B install to your phone remotely, and when the app launches, it will email you the phone’s GPS location.

Use – As every app is different, follow the directions on setup. Most apps function similarly, though, asking you to create an account when you install it, and providing you a website to manage your device after it’s lost.

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