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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May 2008, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Drive to 'design out' gadget crime
By Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

Toshiba Portege G910
Toshiba's Portege range features fingerprint recognition

Designers from brands like Nokia and Sony are meeting up as part of a project to cut the number of mobile phones and other expensive gadgets that are stolen each year.

Research for the Design Council, which is hosting the event, shows that one in eight under 16s have been the victim of "hot product" crime over the last three years.

A third were listening to music on headphones, talking on a mobile, texting or playing games when their gadget was stolen.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is holding talks with 40 different manufactures and designers to try to find a way to make products less attractive to thieves.

Latest security measures

The latest mobile phones are already starting to include more sophisticated security measures.

Toshiba's Portege range is one of the first to feature the kind of fingerprint recognition normally found in expensive laptops.

Users swipe their thumb over the edge of the phone to unlock its menu system and contents.

The same kind of biometric security measures are already built into "ultra mobile" PCs like the Samsung Q1 Ultra.

But these products are still aimed at a business customer and have not reached the mainstream market.

Designers involved in the crime project expect that to change in the future.

Biometrics 'to take off'

Peter Cochrane has worked as a technology consultant for companies like Motorola and BT.

He told Newsbeat that fingerprint recognition is just one new biometric feature we can expect to find in the phones of the future.

He thinks the standard camera that is built in to most handsets could be used to recognise a user's facial features.

"The beauty of it is, it's just an application," he said. "No extra hardware is required."

Some PCs already have built-in biometric security measures

More expensive phones are already starting to include more advanced location based features like GPS.

He said the same kind of technology could be used to make the handset traceable.

If it is stolen, police could, in theory, track the location of the device to the nearest metre.

Thieves change tactics

But mobile phone companies and designers are always fighting to stay one step ahead of criminals.

Even Peter Cochrone admits that: "Criminal activity is always a game of chess in the dark. You have to move quickly."

Mobile companies bought in a new identification system in 2002 to try and stop phone theft.

Every new mobile sold in the UK now comes with its own unique code. If it is stolen, it can be blocked from every network within 24 hours.

Anyone trying to hack or tamper with the code number could face five years in prison.

The new measures are credited with a decrease in mobile theft.

But it is thought many criminals have simply switched tactics.

Instead of trying to sell stolen phones in the UK, many are now exported to other countries for a fraction of their market value.

Phone locks

While some designers think technology is the answer, others are working on lower tech methods of cutting "hot product" theft.

Spike Spondike is a member of the Design Against Crime unit at Central St Martin's College of Art & Design in London.

She is working with the British Transport Police on a 2 cord device that physically links any mobile phone with its user or an object like a backpack.

She said: "It's for dipping and pickpocketing, which are the most common types of theft. A lot of these crimes happen when we are not really aware of it."

A prototype device is due to be finished this summer. British Transport Police are expected to order around 10,000 as part of a pilot safety programme.

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