SHIFT: How Apple can stop stolen iPods forever

It happens all too often. You turn your back, and bam! Your iPod is gone. It's been pinched. Jacked. Stolen. In fact, well over 50 million iPods have been taken illegally. One tragic murder has been attributed to a stolen iPod, and consumers have spent millions of dollars replacing their jacked players. If you're one of the victims of this gadget crime spree, how pissed off would you be if you discovered that Apple has the ability to report, disable, or at least help track these stolen goods? After the jump, I'll take a look at what can be done.

Big Brother
Like many consumers, I have a love/hate relationship with my iPod. One of the things I've had problems with is how cumbersome it is when I first log into iTunes to purchase songs. Is this one of my five "authorized" computers? Do I remember my user ID? Password? Is the credit card my music billed to still valid? Apple does a lot to make sure its DRM-encoded music is protected. But, what does Apple do to protect my music, my music stored on my iPod? Apple knows when I plug my iPod into my computer. If I report it stolen, why can't they tell when it's been plugged into someone else's computer?

Taking A Bite out of Crime
Some other people have been asking the same question. One poor sod whose girlfriend's iPod was stolen while he was borrowing it took matters into his own hands. After discovering that Apple would do nothing to help retrieve his beloved's beloved, he started a website to help others with a similar plight. His website, StoleniPods.com is a place to search for, or report stolen devices. He even has a registry for products with his unique Unlose.it labels, where items are returned for a reward.

Stepping Up to the Plate
It appears that Apple has realized that it has the power to take a stand against iPod theft. If iPods are rendered useless when they're stolen, then they would be no longer desirable to thieves. I would love to think that Apple has some big conspiracy theory; if an iPod is stolen, chances are pretty good that the original owner is going to buy a replacement — perhaps even an upgraded (i.e. more expensive) model. But alas, no such conspiracy exists. Apple obviously knows when an authorized iPod is connected to iTunes, but company reps have told police that tracking stolen ones is just too big of an undertaking for them.

But after millions of complaints about their inability to track, recover, or at least disable stolen iPods, Apple has finally decided to make a move. In a recent patent application, Apple is proposing a plan that if an iPod is plugged into an unauthorized recharging device, it will not recharge. Rendering the iPod useless after the remaining charge runs out, this is a huge step in the right direction.

A bigger step would be to actually track the units when they're plugged into a computer. It's easy to see that Apple wishes to help out honest consumers, but doesn't want to get into the policing business (even though it willing does so when it comes to copyrights), but it seems to me that more can be done, and if you have any suggestions, by all means put them in the comments below. As an iPod user, I'm just glad to see that steps are in motion to make my iPod less attractive to Apple Jackers.

An audio engineer based in Atlanta, Leslie Shapiro has been covering consumer electronics for almost a decade. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Sound & Vision, Crutchfield Advisor, and How Stuff Works as well as AOL. A longtime consultant and legal advisor for the electronics industry, she has a penchant for Bianchi and Colnago Italian bikes, and her favorite word is "synchronicity."