Never Lock Your Cell Phone

I was walking out of Nautical Nellie’s, a restaurant downtown, and I guess my phone fell out of my pocket.

A passing pedicab driver saw it and picked it up. He saw that the first number on my contacts list was as rival pedicab company across town (where I worked at the time), so he took the phone to the company headquarters and left it on a table. It remained for a week until I noticed it and picked it up.

On BC day the following year, Sarah McLachlan played at the legislative buildings, and afterwards I went for a bike ride in Beacon Hill park with a friend. We stopped for a nap on a sunny patch of grass, and when I got up, my phone again fell out of my pocket.

About half an hour later, my friend’s phone rang. It was my cousin. He was the second contact on my list, and the person who found my phone had called him. The three of them arranged a meeting at the entrance of the park, where my phone was returned to me.

At a bus shelter in Oak Bay, the young man I was with insisted on tango dancing with me while we waited for the bus. Distracted, we left a bag containing his iPod Touch on the shelter bench.

3 months later, he received an email from a woman.

“I found this iPod in my mom’s knickknacks box. She said she tried to return it, but couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. Ha! I’m sorry I accidentally deleted your pictures, but before I did I noticed that there were a lot of car pictures. I took some snaps of my son’s Hot Wheels to make up for it. If you meet me at Tillicum Mall I’ll give it back to you!”

And we did, and she did.

The first year I lived in Victoria, I dropped my wallet on the bus. I called BC Transit to ask after it – they had it. I went and picked it up. Everything was still there.

2 years before that, in Campbell River, I dropped a different wallet on a different bus. When I noticed, 4 hours later, I returned to the bus terminal. The first driver I saw recognized me, and said that my wallet was on the number 3 bus. “She’ll be back in an hour or so, if you don’t mind waiting.”

I waited, but I missed my ride home. When the driver who returned my wallet learned this, she offered to drop me wherever I needed, since she was just coming off shift and on her way back to the depot.

A different phone, different bus, a different city. Someone at my school found it. He emailed me, using the phone, to meet him in the Business building. He refused my offer of a thank-you coffee, as he was in a hurry to get back to class.

People are pretty awesome.

If you lock your phone and lose it, there’s nothing anyone can do with it but wipe the data and keep it. They can turn it in to your phone company, but it’s not satisfying. More likely they’ll put it in a knickknacks box and leave it there forever.

If you make it easy for people to return your stuff, they very often will. Take a chance.

Also, invest in decent pockets.

33 thoughts on “Never Lock Your Cell Phone

  1. I have had this experience with iPhone and wallets as well. The latest was me leaving it on the seat of a cab in NYC. The next rider found it, hung on to it and reached out to my husband saying, “Dude, I have your wife’s phone.” I met her at her place of employment — a Panera Bread place near Rockefeller Center. She turned out to be a starving student type working her buns off in the city. My thanks – a big tip. “Go buy yourself lunch, a beer after work/classes.”

  2. I don’t completely agree. Some smartphones have a feature where you can leave that kind of relevant info on the lockscreen.
    Besides, there is more of a reason to lock your phone than there is to not do so:
    Even if you lose your phone, it is once in a helluva lot of time, and the rest of the time it is nobody’s business but the owner’s what is going on in there.

  3. Even if your phone is locked, you can call it and the person who found it can answer it and let you know where it is. An honest person would do this, if they aren’t able to get into a locked phone.

    A lock prevents a dishonest person from f**kin up your life, discovering personal or professional secrets or just hanging on to your phone and using it. It ‘s also a deterrent to professional thieves.

    Also, you seem to suck at keeping track of your things. 😛

  4. Alternatively, add an emergency contact number to your lock screen wallpaper and accomplish two goals at once without exposing your data to anyone who gets their hands on your phone.

  5. This doesn’t make any sense at all. The points made aren’t valid at all. You can easily use Find my iPhone to send a message to the phone that will ring (even if it was set to silent) and with a pop up message of your choosing saying something like Please call Bob at xxx-xxxx. Furthermore, you can always locate your iPhone using Find My iPhone.

    The idea that “If you lock your phone and lose it, there’s nothing anyone can do with it but wipe the data and keep it.” is absolutely preposterous. There is a million things that person can do to make sure the phone gets returned to the rightful owner if the person who finds it is ever so inclined. You can post a craigslist ad, you can post on facebook, post on twitter, there are a lot of other things someone can do besides “wipe the data and keep it.”

    The thesis of this article is that with less security on your smartphone you have more of a chance of recovering your iPhone is beyond ridiculous…I am hoping this is an April Fool’s joke.

    1. Sure you can if it’s an iPhone with data turned on 😛 What if it’s a blackberry curve? What if data is turned off to save money? What if it’s a dumb phone? Half these stories took place before I got a smartphone.

    1. Check out the ipod touch story – the lady who found it had perfectly good intentions of returning it, but she couldn’t figure out email. It was returned only when her daughter found it by chance, several months later. Not that it’s a bad idea to display your email – I do that too.

    1. I always called or texted the phone if I noticed it missing before the finder contacted me. Often there was no answer. Also, I’m deaf, so phoning isn’t that easy. I need special equipment that (surprise) only works with my phone.

  6. I lost my (not locked) brand new iPhone 4GS in DFW, I think I dropped it around a terminal. It never found its way back despite my name and home phone number being on a label that spanned the length of the exterior of the phone.
    The thief later tried to compromise my AppleID password. They got access to my entire history of text messages, browser bookmarks and history, personal photos, etc.
    Not locking your phone is a horrible, horrible idea.

  7. I get what you are saying, but you are assuming that we should have a basic trust in humanity. As other commenters have pointed out, not all iThing losses turn out so well. I keep mine locked, because I don’t trust people in big cities like DC not to steal it.

    I noticed that you didn’t mention the iCloud service Find My iPhone. It’s been invaluable to me and to my family. You can always find your iPhone through logging in online with your Apple ID. To be honest, my family mostly uses it to figure out where people are. But hey, it’s a useful app and one that might circumvent the need to keep the phone completely open.

    1. I do think we should have basic trust in humanity. I know there are lots of cities where you can’t get away with forgetting your phone places because people will steal it. Those places are poorer for that fact. As long as I’m lucky enough to live in a city where theft is rare, I want to take full advantage of it, and help preserve it.

      Also, I don’t own an iPhone and never have 🙂 All the phones in the stories were dumbphones, or in one case, a blackberry.

  8. Dude,

    You have serious problem losing things. Maybe you should work on your attention.

    But the main problem of not locking you phone is someone with bad interests finding it, is that they can have your personal information.

  9. Actually the main reason why I don’t lock my Android phone is not because I would be losing it all the time, but that I am just annoyed slide it all the time I want to do anything with it, it’s just plain annoying to have to unlock phone maybe 200 times a day. I am willing to sacrifice security over convenience, now after I stopped using lock screen few weeks ago I am pretty happy with it, that if I need to access any function of my phone all I need to do is press the Power button and not that annoying combination of pressing button and sliding Unlock bar (or even worse sliding the gesture password or digits password).

    I don’t have anything really sensitive in my phone, all I would need to do after losing it is login into Google account and change password, personal photos or calendar data are quite worthless for other people.

    1. Can’t you just set the lock timeout longer so that if you leave the phone for 20min or more you need to unlock it? It would provide you more security than none at all.

  10. I hate to state the blindingly obvious, but you should tape your name and number and address to the back side of your phone, if your phone can’t show that information on the lock screen. Or, you know, you could continue to needlessly give up your personal security in exchange for a refusal to take greater care of your belongings.

  11. not locking your phone and relying on someone to randomly select someone from your contacts is NOT a wise solution. I simply pulled the image I wanted as my wallpaper into skitch and typed “if lost, please email… and call …” Voila – secured phone, check! Method for someone who finds my lost phone to call me, check!

  12. i found someones iPhone once, no passcode
    first i trolled a few of their friends on facebook
    then i posted some obscenities on their twitter
    then i perused their emails for a few minutes before realising i can reset all of their passwords
    so i reset all of their passwords
    then i formatted the phone and sold it online
    i feel that i taught that person a special lesson, always lock your phone

  13. Ridiculous. The logical solution is to take care that you don’t lose your phone so often and not keeping it unlocked. Grown-ups should be able to store their phone safe.

  14. I left my tablet on the London Underground, locked, but I was smart enough to have a message on my home screen with my name and contact details on it. A nice Polish guy found it and called me, I picked it up later that day from his office.

    My phone has a message on the home screen with my name, email address and an alternate contact number and it also says “This phone is tracked” (because I use Cerberus phone security tracker).

    Yes, you could leave your phone unlocked, then whoever picks it up can call anyone they like, or you can leave it locked, give the opportunity for someone to contact the owner else track it yourself. I know which one I prefer, frankly you can only trust good will so far.

  15. am I the only 1 who found the stories in this post incredibly inspiring ?

    Whatever your take maybe on keeping your phone locked or unlocked, the fact that the author has repeatedly experienced the goodness of other humans so many times again and again is very affirming and uplifting for those of us who still have faith in humanity and *other* people.

    It just made my day reading this post first thing in the morning.

    Many thanks for sharing.

  16. When I read “I dropped my phone”, “I left my phone”, “my phone fell out of my pocket”, etc., I’m thinking you have a different problem to solve that is unrelated to the locked/unlocked state of your phone.

    You wouldn’t keep your car or house unlocked just because you keep misplacing your keys, would you?

  17. Contact info on the lock screen is so obvious that it’s amazing it wasn’t a feature from Day 1. That it wasn’t is a clue that humans aren’t actually very clever.

    Another example is wifi-only gadgets. The finder or thief takes it to their house, but because the gadget is locked, they can’t enter their access point’s password. So the gadget cannot connect to the Internet. All the clever iFind features don’t work because nobody thought them through.

  18. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I
    find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of

  19. I’m a fan of prudence and celebrating trustworthy behaviour. I’ve also lost things… Even when I’m “paying attention”. If I can operate on my own timelines with no rushing or have you know, 5 hands to hold all my groceries and rucksack on the bus and check that I’ve not dropped something then I don’t loose stuff. If if 3 people are talking to me, the phone is ringing and there’s a deadline to be somewhere there has been the odd occasion where something slipped through the cracks. (Literally, wallet slides out of pocket into crack beside seat in friend’s car at night: Panic at the disco ensues.) I’ve also had things stolen – out of my house from behind 2 doors that were deadbolted. Sometimes the things never came back and sometimes they did. Shans I appreciate that you manage to always point out the possibilities in the world other than that things inevitably suck. I also appreciate that you think through a plan of some kind to circumnavigate stressful experiences. I don’t know that I’d come to the same conclusions as you in this case (I lock it and use good old fashioned writing on my case ‘cuz it’s a brick anyway) but man do I want to kiss the strangers that act with decency and go out of their way to make other’s lives bearable when the panic of “oh no identity theft” kicks in.

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