Virtues of the iPhone's password lock function

If your iPhone gets stolen, is your personal data protected? Maybe if you use the Password function, which requires a PIN to log in after the phone goes idle.

Kevin Ho
Kevin Ho is an attorney living in San Francisco. He's from Iowa originally where he got his first Atari computer when he was little and remembers using the Apple IIGS. He is PC-user but secretly a Mac person in the closet as evidenced by many an iPod cluttering his desk drawers. He'll be writing about his experience with the iPhone. Disclosure.
Kevin Ho
2 min read

One of the beauties of the iPhone is its supposed near-ubiquitous access to a huge amount of your personal information from one access point. Think about it: your contacts, text messages, e-mails, music, photos, stock portfolios and bookmarks, even to what you're doing and when, are all in your hand or pocket.

Over iced tea on a sunny day in San Francisco, a friend who is quite the entrepreneur noted that if you ever, god forbid, dropped your iPhone or lost it, or if it should get stolen, the next person who picked it up would have access to all that stuff about you.

Of course, because you have to activate the iPhone with AT&T, it should figure that if you reported it stolen, the particular handset associated with your account shouldn't be able to access the AT&T network. (Note: I've heard of some people breaking in and hacking the iPhone so that it could be used on different networks than AT&T).

That said, your information is still physically located on the iPhone. This leads me to wonder if AT&T can send some kind of disrupter, fry-my-iPhone signal out that would fry your iPhone--the ultimate nuclear option. Sounds drastic, but you never know how valuable information can be. Remember when Paris Hilton's BlackBerry was allegedly stolen? That is, after someone hacked into her T-Mobile Sidekick? BlackBerrys apparently are capable of receiving a "kill signal" that will disable access to your BlackBerry e-mail if it is located on an enterprise server, but what if it's not?

A world of worry lurks here for the contents of your iPhone, right?

But, like others, I've recently come to see that you could simply use the password function on the iPhone. No, not the old TV show Password but rather a key lock function that many cell phones have. Not many phones, however, enable users to provide a unique personal identification number to unlock the device. The iPhone's password function (located under "general" menu) requires that you type in a PIN every time you use the iPhone after it goes idle.

Well then, who uses the password function?

One person I know who works at a big tech company and has e-mails that, I presume, require discretion and protection, uses the password function. Another person, also of a large tech company, says that if he had work e-mail on his iPhone, his company would force him to lock it. But for now, he says, "who cares if someone reads my e-mail?" It must be elementary for tech companies to institute stringent privacy protection policies.

Others I have met have said that when they leave their iPhones at their desks or workstations, they lock theirs too.

As for me? Well, I'm just paranoid. I already shred most of my documents anyway. Call it the lawyer in me, but despite the extra keystrokes, I think it's still a good idea, even if we're not as famous as Paris.