Reliability of the Find My iPhone Feature | iLounge Article

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Reliability of the Find My iPhone Feature

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Q: How well does the “Find My iPhone” (or iPad) feature actually work? I mean, I know that I can use it to locate my iPhone and wipe it or lock it, but can I really rely on it to help get my iPhone back if a thief steals it? Can’t somebody just turn my iPhone off after they steal it, or am I missing something here?

- Brenda

A: No, you’re not really missing anything here at all as you’re exactly right that the Find My iPhone feature won’t work if your iPhone is completely turned OFF. In fact, there are a number of situations in which the Find My iPhone feature will not be available:

If your device has no passcode, a thief can go into your iCloud settings and turn off the Find My iPhone feature just as easily as you can.

If your device has no data coverage, then obviously it cannot communicate with Apple’s iCloud servers to either report its location or receive instructions that you may send to it. In the case of a Wi-Fi only iPad or an iPod touch, this is very likely to be a problem unless the device is near an already-configured Wi-Fi network such as at your office, school, or a coffee shop that you frequent, or if the person who has your device can get into it and has configured it for another Wi-Fi network. Even with an iPhone, however, removing the SIM card, or travelling out of cellular data coverage will break access to the Find My iPhone feature.

Note that this creates an additional dilemma for iPhone users, since if you call your cellular carrier and cancel/suspend your plan, you’ve effectively risked cutting your device off from the Find My iPhone feature; however if you don’t cancel your plan, you risk having a thief rack up expensive long distance calls on your account. A standard iOS passcode lock will prevent somebody from accessing your device in order to place non-emergency calls, but a thief can just as easily wipe and restore your device and then proceed to use the device—and your cellular account—however they see fit.

In the very least, you may want to engage Lost Mode or remotely wipe your device before cancelling service just to make sure that it’s at least secured with a passcode or erased entirely in order to protect your data.

If your device is erased and/or restored to factory settings, then the Find My iPhone feature goes away with it. Find My iPhone is a software feature built into iOS—it’s not embedded in the hardware in any special way. In essence, if somebody restores your iPhone to factory settings and configured it themselves, it’s not really your iPhone any more as far as iCloud is concerned.

If your device has a passcode, it will be more difficult for a thief to wipe it before they are able to get back to a computer, but they can still simply switch it off to block the Find My iPhone feature in the meantime.

Remember that all of the security features built into iOS are there to protect your data, not your device. It doesn’t matter how strong your passcode is nor how reliable Find My Friends is, if an experienced and determined thief has deliberately stolen your device, they will have a hard time accessing your information if it’s properly secured, but they will basically have scored themselves a shiny new iPhone to do with as they please.

At the end of the day, if you’re afraid your iPhone has fallen into the wrong hands, you’re basically going to be need to decide whether to send a “remote wipe” to protect your information, cancel your cellular account to protect your wallet, or leave everything active and hope that the Find My iPhone feature allows you and/or the police to track it down before the thief can disable it.

 

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Comments

1

So even if my stolen IPhone 5 is wiped clean and restored through Itunes by the thief, and the thief decides to put the ICloud feature “Find My IPhone” back onto my stolen IPhone 5, and he also turns the “Location Services” back on in order that nobody will be able to steal the phone from him without him being able to track it, are you telling me that I still can’t track my IPhone even though it’s my phone, and “Location Services” and “Find My IPhone” features have been turned back on? Please tell me this isn’t the case, it just doesn’t seem right? Please get back to me and let me know.

Posted by GMan on May 3, 2013 at 11:46 AM (CDT)

2

GMan,
i Agree with you, but to my experience that’s true. I’ve lost my iPad one month ago and no clue where it is.

Posted by Luciano on June 28, 2013 at 9:02 PM (CDT)

3

Omg, are you serious? My sons iPhone was stolen and if it’s wiped clean and reset as new phone for someone, there is no way to find it? If they set up a new iTunes account, doesn’t iTunes account use serial number or something…so when it’s activated again that will show up and be flagged?  Something?.?. :(

Posted by Jenn on July 4, 2013 at 1:11 PM (CDT)

4

The good news is that iOS 7 will finally address this issue with a new feature known as “Activation Lock” which ties the device to the original owner’s Apple ID, requiring that Apple ID and password to reactivate the device. Although this feature makes it a little bit harder for a casual thief to erase an iOS 7 device, it still won’t allow you to actually track the device if it has been wiped. However, at least the device will be of no use to anybody else.

See iOS 7: Activation Lock + Find My iPhone for a look at how this new feature works in the current iOS 7 developer betas.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on July 9, 2013 at 4:22 PM (CDT)

5

Hi!

I used to be able to check up on my young son every so often using find my iPhone. Since he had it factory reset for whatever reason, I cannot see him any longer. Is there a way to reconnect to his phone? Also if he gets a new iPhone will find my phone work once again? Thank you

Posted by Geegee on July 18, 2013 at 12:49 PM (CDT)

6

Hi!
I used to be able to check up on my young son every so often using find my iPhone. Since he had it factory reset for whatever reason, I cannot see him any longer. Is there a way to reconnect to his phone? Also if he gets a new iPhone will find my phone work once again? Thank you

Posted by Geegee on July 18, 2013 at 1:00 PM (CDT)

7

the very first thing the thief will do turn it off take the out sim and restore the defaults, at which point you have lost it for good.

Posted by Tom on August 31, 2013 at 1:19 PM (CDT)

8

Apple won’t do anything even if you report the device stolen and it has the find my iPhone app on. They just tell you to call the police and report it stolen.

Posted by Sarah Nielsen on February 19, 2014 at 4:55 PM (CST)

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