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August 7, 2012

How to find your lost or stolen cellphone

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue lost his iPhone on an Amtrak train earlier this week but recovered it last week after police found it in the backyard of a house in suburban Maryland. Pogue used Find My iPhone, an application that uses GPS signaling to allow users to view the location of their iPhone from a computer or other device, to pinpoint the location of his phone. He then tweeted the location to 1.4 million Twitter followers, who made Pogue's stolen phone a viral phenomenon. For people without 1.4 million Twitter followers, are there good ways to recover a lost or stolen cellphone?

Yes, but most require taking steps ahead of time. Having some sort of mobile phone-recovery application, like Find My iPhone, installed is a good first step. Although this type of application won't work if the phone is turned off or the battery is dead, it will tell you where your phone is if it's powered on. It will also let you cause the phone to emit a loud noise for a couple of minutes, to help you find the phone if you are in earshot but not sure exactly where it is. Finally, an app like this can let you erase all of the phone's data remotely, in case you resign yourself to the likelihood that the phone is gone forever and want to protect your private data. (These apps are available only for smartphones with GPS capabilities — owners of older models are out of luck.)

Another way to identify a thief is to hope that he or she will enter identifying information into the phone. If your carrier stores phone data on a remote network, you'll be able to see texts and emails sent and photos taken from your phone, which might give you enough information to be able to track down a thief and ask for your phone back or offer a reward in exchange for it. If the thief refuses, you can try to alert the masses just as Pogue did, even if you're not a famous writer. As Clay Shirky recounts in "Here Comes Everybody," a woman recovered her cellphone after a friend publicly shamed the phone's thief (whose pictures and email address they discovered via T-Mobile servers) on Digg.

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