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 personal or company information -- isn't something you want falling into the wrong hands.
Locking a smartphone with a password isn't enough. Instead, many phone manufacturers and third-party software developers are offering ways to remotely wipe the data from a lost or stolen smartphone.
When you set up your new iPhone, iPod touch or iPad you'll be prompted to activate the Find My iPhone feature. Whether you say "Yes" now or download the free app later on, this service can help you track, lock or wipe your missing iOS device. Simply log online to iCloud.com or launch the Find My Phone app on another iOS device to see the missing device on a map — but be sure to work with the authorities to retrieve it instead of attempting to get it yourself. Along with locking and wiping the data clean, you can also have it ring loudly, even if it's on mute (in case it's stuck in the sofa cushions) or display a message on the screen ("Call me for a reward: 212-555-1212").
Google's popular Android operating system doesn't have its own native "remote wipe" service, but there are multiple ways to remotely wipe it data should the smartphone become lost or stolen. That is, if you're running the free Google Latitude, you can always check your smartphone's location online, but you can't remotely wipe its data. For this, you'll need third-party apps from the Google Play store (formerly Android Market), including Alienman Tech's Where's My Droid, Mobile Defense or McAfee's WaveSecure. Just like the other solutions discussed here, these Android tracking apps must be set up ahead of time — not when it's too late.
Similar to Apple's Find My iPhone, BlackBerry owners can download the free BlackBerry Protect app to sign up for the free service. Consider it a "lost and found" solution: If the BlackBerry is missing in action, you can log into a protected website to see the smartphone on a map and remotely scrub its data, so no one can access it. As a proactive measure, BlackBerry Protect — as its name suggests — also lets you wirelessly back-up your contacts, text messages, calendar and bookmarks to a password-protected cloud service. There are a few free third-party tools available, such as SmrtGuard and BuddyGuard Pro, but Research in Motion's own app is best in class for the platform.
Finally, Microsoft offers a Find My Phone solution for remotely locating or wiping data from lost or stolen Windows Phone devices. In the Settings area, you will find a Find my Phone option, which first requires you to give permission to use location services. Once you do, you can remotely ring, lock, erase, or find your Windows Phone 7 or 7.5 (and soon, 8) device on a map at windowsphone.com. Tip: To improve accuracy, enable the feature that says "Save my location every few hours for better mapping."
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