If you've ever had your phone stolen, there's probably nothing you wanted more than to punch the thief right in the nose — if only you knew what that nose looked like. Lookout Mobile Security's app, available for Android and iOS, can now provide you a picture of just that, along with the face to which it's attached, automatically via its Theft Alerts functionality.
Theft Alerts is a simple idea that could be useful: If Lookout detects suspicious behavior on your smartphone, it will automatically use the device's front-facing camera to snap a picture of the supposed perpetrator and email it to you, along with his or her location.
Lookout is not the first program to do this; other apps such as Lockwatch automatically take photos when a phone's security settings are tampered with, and other mobile-security apps let users manually take remote photos with their phones and try to track down thieves. However, Theft Alerts does represent the first time automatic photo functionality has been integrated into a comprehensive mobile-security suite rather than used as a standalone program.
With Theft Alerts activated, Lookout will monitor your phone for suspicious behavior. If someone removes your SIM card, turns on Airplane Mode, enters your passcode incorrectly, turns off your phone or attempts to remove Lookout, the camera will activate and you'll receive an email with a photograph and location of the supposed malefactor.
All five Theft Alert triggers apply to the Android app; because of Apple's restrictions, only the first two work on iOS. If you do any of these actions yourself frequently, you can change Lookout's settings to ignore them.
While the program sounds like a great idea, its practical value is most likely very limited. Having a photograph and a rough location of a phone thief will not do the average user much good. A phone's GPS can only pinpoint a general area (like a street corner), not an exact house or a location in an apartment building. Even on the off chance that the thief takes a perfect selfie (or "theftie," as Lookout calls it), identifying strangers with a single screenshot is not easy, especially in crowded areas where a thief could be constantly on the move.
Still, if you're often in situations where your phone could get stolen and want some peace of mind, even in the form of a placebo, Theft Alerts is bundled into Lookout Mobile Security Premium, which costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year. It may not help you retrieve your phone, but at least you'll have a person's face to associate with your ire.