An App That Fights Back Against Smartphone Thieves

Image: Mashable, Niki Walker

Lookout rolled out several new features to its mobile security app on Wednesday, but unlike many of the app's existing features, which focus on protecting users from digital threats like malware and spyware, the newest version of the app helps its users protect against thieves.

The app's new theft alerts will notify users within a minute of when suspicious activity is detected.

"When you lose your phone, that's one of the most helpless feelings you'll ever have," Greg Lou, senior product manager at Lookout, told Mashable.

The company is hoping to combat this helplessness by providing users with information that will help them recover lost or stolen devices.

Users can customize a list of actions, which will trigger alerts. For Android devices, these actions can include removing the SIM card, enabling airplane mode, turning the phone off, entering the wrong passcode and changing the device's admin permissions. For iOS users, theft alerts will only be prompted by SIM card removal and enabling airplane mode.

Lookout Anti theft

Image: Lookout

When an alert is triggered, the phone snaps a photo from the device's front-facing camera (for Android users) and records the exact location of the device. Within a minute, the user receives a theft alert email that includes the "theftie" photo and a map of the location. The email provides resources to help you connect with your carrier and file a police report.

"We've actually seen times where this amount of information is enough for law enforcement to actually go do something versus saying 'tough luck,'" Lou said.

Lookout's iOS and Android app are both free, but Theft Alerts require a subscription, which costs $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year. Existing Lookout users will be able to use theft alerts without a subscription through September.

Smartphone thefts, and the violence often associated with them, is a growing problem that has prompted new legislation in several states. California lawmakers recently passed a bill that would require manufacturers give consumers the means to remotely disable and wipe their phones.

But Lou said that kind of "kill switch," though important, is only one part of a potential solution for consumers.

"The idea behind a kill switch is to make the thing completely inoperable and useless," he said. "We definitely view that as the nuclear option and there's generally a lot of steps you take before you get to there. For us, Theft Alerts is that first step."

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