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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lost a smartphone? Track it and erase data

These days, a lost smartphone is not just a shame -- it's a potential nightmare. That phone may contain personal information -- your contacts, emails and calendar entries -- not to mention potentially sensitive company information. The good news is you can protect your data, remotely, with wireless technology.

The unfortunate reality for those who lose a smartphone is the cost to replace the hardware should be the least of your worries. Rather, the data that resides on the smartphone -- including potentially sensitive information about you or your business -- isn't something you want falling into the wrong hands.

Locking a smartphone with a password isn't enough. Instead, many phone makers and third-party software developers are offering ways to remotely wipe the data from lost or stolen smartphone.

Usually the way it's handled is a small packet of data is sent down to the device's firmware, remotely, that will start to scrub the device of its information. Using GPS and/or cellular triangulation, you might also be able to track a missing phone -- say, if you left it at a nearby restaurant -- or if stolen, the information could be given to the authorities to pursue.

Whether you use a BlackBerry, iPhone, or Windows device, here's a look at the offerings (and cost) of what's available today:


Apple's MobileMe service ($109/year), which synchronizes all of your information between Apple devices -- such as email, contacts, and calendars -- can also be used to remotely lock, wipe, or locate a lost or stolen iPhone.

When you realize your phone is missing, the first step is to log into your MobileMe account on a computer and remotely set a four-digit passcode lock to prevent anyone from using it.

Then, you can have it ring (in case you left it under a pile of clothes), type a text message that appears on the iPhone's screen (e.g. "Please call me if found") or you might want to locate the phone on a map.

If this, too, proves unsuccessful, you might want to remotely wipe the iPhone's data, which is also an option once logged into your MobileMe account. Or you can do this through a Microsoft Exchange Server wipe command, too.

Windows Phones

Designed for Windows Mobile 6.0 phones (and newer), Microsoft's My Phone (free) offers a number of handy features including automatic back-ups of your phone's info (such as contacts, emails, and text messages) and the ability to access it all online.

Once you sign up for the service, you can erase your phone if it is missing by sending a command to restore the device to its original factory settings. My Phone can also find your lost phone by pinpointing the last location it was synchronized.

Many phones -- including the upcoming Windows Phone 7 devices -- will have My Phone already bundled on the phone but it's also available as a free download.


There are a few free third-party tools available for users of Research in Motion's BlackBerry smartphones.

For one, SmrtGuard lets you remotely track or wipe your phone. A "Pro" version of the software also gives a "data protection package," enabling you to backup and restore your data.

BuddyGuard also lets you remotely access, lock, wipe, or retrieve a missing BlackBerry (via GPS). Similar to MobileMe, you can also have the BlackBerry emit a loud tone -- even if the phone was left in silent mode -- if you suspect the device is somewhere in the home, car, or office.




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