That syncing feeling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am


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Our phones have become our lives - embedding our calendars, cameras, contacts and our link to the outside world into one slim, handheld device. This sounds great - until that smartphone is stolen or lost, along with all that precious information. What's more, it costs money to replace. According to police figures, 5,787 phones were reported lost or stolen last year, compared with 4,892 in 2010.

Lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan recently asked security secretary Lai Tung-kwok about reporting and recovering lost mobile phones. Lai said most stolen phones were smuggled out of Hong Kong for resale, but police still kept an eye on places where stolen goods were sold.

While the police don't keep statistics on loss and recovery, Lai advised people to install software to keep track of lost phones or to lock them.

There are many apps for tracking and managing data. Some not only sync more conveniently than built-in functions, but provide added security for personal files or enable remote deletion. The first step is to activate built-in tracking tools.

Apple's Find My iPhone (or iPad) app relies on iCloud. Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 come with built-in Find My Mobile functions. Both use the internet and work if the phone has a 3G or Wi-fi connection, even if the Sim card has been removed.

The free Find My iPhone app's remote functions range greatly. First call is to upload a message, which displays even on a locked screen - or make the device play a sound to aid locating it.

You can protect private information or prevent costly usage by remotely setting a Pin lock. Remotely wiping the phone is the final option: all personal information including texts, contacts, apps and e-mails are deleted. The phone will default to factory settings and can no longer be tracked.

Everything from the most recent sync can later be recovered to an iPhone, but the camera roll and text messages are lost forever.

Samsung's Find My Mobile functions include remote controls, much like Find My iPhone. An additional Sim change alert feature sends an SMS to a nominated number when the Sim is removed - usually the first thing thieves do.

The Galaxy security menu includes other functions that could become increasingly standard. There's a low-security-but-hassle-free facial recognition unlock and an encryption feature, which means that more than just the standard Pin lock is required to access files.

Syncing data such as contacts and calendars through Google means that the user can simply change the password online to prevent further access from the device. iPhone users are the most reliant on replacing with the same brand to reclaim content such as Notes (the built-in Apple app). That said, there are apps that get around iTunes data syncing, which prevents reliance on the Apple operating system.

The same apps are also the best way for Android users to sync. Android syncing apps such as Kies are generally unreliable.

Online file storage site Dropbox is a good way of transferring data to and from a device and important files are always at hand, through internet access.

For Android, you can sync files using ES Explorer, a file-managing app, which accesses files on the handset, SD card or Dropbox.

Avoid saving important information to an SD card, because if the card is removed, it can't be wiped by remote.

An added Dropbox bonus is automatic camera roll syncing. You could capture an image of the thief - and won't lose photos that haven't actively been downloaded.

Former England rugby captain Will Carling made the news by embarking on an exciting chase - and narrating it on Twitter - for his iPad when it was stolen last year.

By using Apple's MobileMe system he successfully tracked the device until it was handed in to the police.

To optimise security, store important data on Dropbox, rather than transferring it to the device. Then, if the phone is lost or stolen the account password can be changed so the device can no longer access it. Information can even be moved out of Dropbox.

For those who rely on making notes and sketches on the fly, there are a number of note apps that store information online, rather than on the handset. This overcomes the difficult task of having to switch between handsets.

In the case of theft, passwords can be updated online.

Evernote has a range of useful functions. While ColorNote doesn't allow sketching, a colour-coded system might be favourable, along with checklists and templates. ColorNote syncs through Facebook, Gmail and other e-mail accounts.

Apps aside, the only failsafe way to protect information is to avoid storing it on a handset, and to access e-mails through a mobile-friendly web page. Remember to log out after use. It's inconvenient, but safer.

Handsets are becoming increasingly hi-tech and it's getting expensive to replace them.

One thing that would protect data has not yet been developed: an app that sends a 'kill' signal to the device (while 'shocking' the thief), which can only be restored by the owner.