London Riots: I hope the phone companies are disabling all their stock

Have you seen what’s going on in London recently? It’s absolutely ridiculous.

We’ve had serious riots going on — the sort of thing we’re more accustomed to seeing taking place during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

It originally started because there was some kind of shooting of a chap. This chap may or may not have been ‘a baddie’. The few hundred who gathered to protest peacefully at a Police Station didn’t believe so. There were most certainly entitled to protest and they were allowed to do so.

This is all well and good.

What’s more frustrating is that a series of enterprising opportunists, aware that the Police were busy dealing with the riots, decided to get stuck into some wickedly fruitful looting.

The mobile phone shops were obviously targets, with many in the particular areas of London reportedly cleaned out. I’m not surprised. I’m sure I read that one Carphone Warehouse was completely ransacked of every single device.

Mobile phones are obviously a highly desirable, highly transportable, highly valuable commodity. It makes sense that looters selected those stores instead of, say, bookshops. There’s plenty of stories on the news of people whisking off flatscreen TVs and so on. They’re just not as easily transportable as, say, an iPhone or the very latest Samsung Galaxy.

That being said, I hope the network operators and the phone shops are collaborating. Stock systems should hopefully be up to date so that the WHOLE lot of stolen products can be locked immediately and made non-functional on UK networks.

This won’t stop more enterprising folk getting hold of the devices and shipping them abroad for lots of money. Although the UK networks all participate in the scheme to disable stolen mobile devices, the phones are unfortunately usable fine in other countries.

Now then, here’s a brilliant video from one of the Sky News reporters, Mark Stone, who was walking around the Clapham Junction area this evening.

He used his phone to film some footage of the riots. What you’ll see is shocking in it’s reality. There’s no violence per se, just evidence of casual, relaxed looting. In the video, you’ll see Mark questioning one of the (heavily disguised) looters.

“Are you a journalist?” asks one of them.

“No, I live here, I’m just astounded by what you’re doing?” [I think that was a smart answer by Mark — identifying himself as a journalist could have been rather dangerous]

“We’ll we’re getting our taxes back,” they reply.

“What do you mean by that?” he asks.

“Obviously,” they reply, “We pay tax innit?”

“So by stealing things,” clarifies Mark, “You’re getting your taxes back? Are you proud of this?”

The looter walks away. Have a watch:

Pretty shocking stuff.

Now let’s take a wee move away from mobile for a second.

Lawlessness across London.

Alastair Reynolds in his book Terminal World famously explains that, “A city’s only ever three hot meals away from anarchy.”

Right now, parts of London are just that whilst we wait for:

a) The Police to regain order
b) The looters/rioters to inevitably go to bed
c) The Government to deploy the Army

Ok back to mobile.

The problem with this kind of lawlessness is that it’s easily, easily spread, especially with today’s super-connected technology. BlackBerry’s BBM is getting lots of mentions across the media today. I think it was smart of RIM to offer any and all support to the authorities. After all, they hold the master keys to decrypt BBM messages.

BBM is heavily popular amongst the youth, especially those with £100 Curves. BBM is unlimited — it’s not charged per message like SMS — so it’s hugely relied upon by those (traditionally the young) who have limited money with which to buy more credit.

So if your mates BBM you to say that they’re all currently ‘doing over’ Currys and helping themselves to a range of consumer goods, it might make sense for you to pop down to Currys too. Especially if you’re just around the corner. That’s the beauty of a big city.

And if you’ve got connected mates ready to tell you if the Police are actually on their way, you’ll literally be absolutely fine. BBM is super-super fast. Your mates are really quick at typing. All you need is a few moments to pop into Currys, select a few items and then get out, with your Curve set to LOUD, so you get any warning notifications right-away.

You don’t even need personal updates. If you’re part of a larger BBM group, you can just follow the conversation there whilst you pick about the shop looking for the best digital camera.

The problem with connected technology in the UK is that we’ve democratised it. This is both a problem and a boon. It’s a boon, normally, when I’m looking at the development of the industry compared to other countries. It’s a problem when you’ve got lots of disaffected (or opportunistic) youths using it to systematically loot shops with impunity.

I think I’m right in saying that this is the first widespread sustained and systematic looting we’ve had in the UK for a long time. Certainly since we’ve had hyper-connected technology available to the majority. It’s not just about BBM. It’s about the other mediums, TV in particular.

The youths currently browsing through Currys and other vandalised stores in Clapham were no doubt watching the examples of counterparts in North London (where the rioting originally began yesterday). The issue for the authorities then becomes one of real time resource allocation. There most probably aren’t enough Police to go around. Demonstrably not, especially when you watch that video. The Police were obviously far too busy dealing with issues elsewhere.

So at what point does this hyper-connected world require more resources than just the Police? When you’ve got folk all over the capital deciding to a bit of chance looting, you can’t allow it to continue beyond one evening. Indeed, across Twitter I’m already seeing calls from the highly comfortable middle classes demanding action from the Government. One more night of this and we’ll need martial law to keep the peace.

Interesting, interesting times.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

4 replies on “London Riots: I hope the phone companies are disabling all their stock”

I reckon it’s 50/50 as to the army/navy/airforce being on the streets tomorrow, armed, and an 8pm curfew.

This isn’t ‘poor people’ in ‘poor neighbourhoods’ anymore, watched from the comfort of an armchair. This is middle- to upper-class gentrifying neighbourhoods now, with £50k cars parked outside. Cameron cannot go down as the Tory leader that let suburbia burn. He will react. Question is, will the looters just hop in cars and drive 30 minutes outside the M25 to the home counties high streets?

Well exactly. It’s going to be interesting to see how they deal with it. I wonder if they’ve taken the electorate’s temperature properly on this.

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