Lost iPhone and Android owners land up at Atlanta couple’s house due to ‘Find My Phone’ bug
For the past one year, an Atlanta couple, Michael Saba and Christina Lee have been living a nightmare, as they are victims of bizarre bug that keeps sending angry iPhone and Android owners to their house in their efforts to retrieve a lost device.
As Fusion reports, it all started the first month Lee and Saba moved in together in Atlanta. The Atlanta couple has been fielding visits from angry strangers, sometimes accompanied by police officers, who believe their device as detected by “Find My Phone app” is located somewhere within Saba and Lee’s home.
The popular “find my phone” app (like Apple’s ‘Find My iPhone’ or Android’s ‘Device Manager’) keep directing people right to their front door to recover lost or stolen devices.
But the phones aren’t there, Lee and Saba always protest, baffled at being fingered by these apps more than a dozen times since February 2015. “I’m sorry you came all this way. This happens a lot,” they’d explain. Most of the people believe them, but about a quarter of them remain suspicious, convinced that the technology is reliable and that Lee and Saba are lying.
“My biggest fear is that someone dangerous or violent is going to visit our house because of this,” said Saba by email. (Like this guy.) “If or when that happens, I doubt our polite explanations are gonna go very far.”
People, after all, can get pretty desperate when their tech appendages go missing. And sometimes, it’s not just a phone that’s missing, but a person. In June, the police came looking for a teenage girl whose parents reported her missing. The couple once was made to sit outside their home for over an hour without being able to use their own restroom, as police wondered whether to get a warrant to further search the “crime scene” looking for the missing girl and her phone.
“Your house is a crime scene and you two are persons of interest,” the officer said, according to Saba.
The couple, who are in their 20s, she a journalist and he an engineer, worry the police will kick down their door one day, a scenario that has happened before based on faulty Find-My-iPhone tracking.
“It really drives home how unsafe and fallible some of this technological evidence is,” said Saba by phone.
So far it is unclear as to why this couple’s home is the center point of the Find My Phone feature. All the stolen phones are from different carriers, so that isn’t it: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Boost Mobile. Apple claims the issue has nothing to do with them. As near as anyone can figure, the problem may have to do with a strange triangulation issue between three cell towers around Saba and Lee’s home, but even then, it’s hard to understand why Find My Phone keeps directing people to the wrong house.
Jonathan Zdziarski, an iPhone forensics expert, thought Wi-Fi mapping could be to blame, telling Fusion that it’s possible that these find my phone apps all depend on the same Wi-Fi mapping data, and that this data is all licensed from the same company and that the company “could have had bad data in the database, either someone using the same MAC address at a different location or just bad GPS data.”
Saba says that after this started happening that he registered the correct address for their Wi-Fi network with Skyhook, but it didn’t solve the problem.
“There are probably a lot of things that could go wrong here but I’d have to have the phones to actually figure it out,” Zdziarski said via Twitter. But the phones, of course, are missing.
Currently, the couple is frustrated, as sadly there doesn’t seem to be any immediate solution in sight for Saba and Lee. The two plan to file a complaint with the FCC and their senator hoping to finally resolve the problem.
“Public pressure is how stuff like this changes,” said Saba. “It sucks that it happens to us, but I hope our experience will lead to it not happening to anyone else.”
A similar case happened in Las Vegas reports Fusion, but a Sprint tower was found to be the culprit. The carrier said that a man’s home “happen[ed] to be in the center of a geometric circle denoting the coverage area of one sector of a Sprint cell site,” and that’s why his house came up when people started looking for lost device.