Loss, Theft, AirPods & the Internet of Things; Plus CEOs of Secureworks, Carbon Health, Aurora
Wendy Thomas of Secureworks, Eren Bali of Carbon Health, Chris Urmson of Aurora
This week, a tale about the Internet of Things. It’s part misadventure, part detective yarn, part eye-opener about a future where more everyday items can access the Internet.
As I got off the plane on December 29 from a trip to Mexico, I lost the case to my brand new 2nd-generation AirPod Pros. My wife had bought them for my birthday earlier that month, and I’d already reached customs with the AirPods in my ears by the time I realized I didn’t have the case on me. Frustrated, I called United Airlines and a customer service rep told me to fill out a lost item form online. I filled it out before we got home and hoped for the best.
I thought I could use another AirPods case to charge them in the meantime, but my phone informed me that the AirPods didn’t belong in the replacement case and so they wouldn’t charge.
Three weeks later I’d received a couple of emailed updates from United saying they were still looking for the case, but no luck. So Saturday morning I thought I would go to an Apple Store and buy a replacement case. But first I’d look online and see how much they cost.
As I looked on the Apple site, I made a discovery: AirPods cases are automatically trackable by Apple’s handy Find My app, even if they don’t have the AirPods in them.
This possibility had never occurred to me.
These three weeks later, would the AirPods case still have enough battery to show up on the Find My map? I turned on my phone, opened the app, and looked;
And what do you know? There was the case, not far from Newark airport, somewhere near a Best Western. Odd spot. Had someone picked it up and then tossed it out of a car? What was it doing outside the airport? I decided I’d drive over and try to find it before spending $100 on a replacement.
Off I went, to the address: near 248 Haynes Avenue in Newark.
There’s nothing at 248 Haynes. It’s an abandoned lot. So I had to drive around a bit, but I figured it out after about 10 minutes. You know what’s right behind that abandoned lot?
United Airlines employee parking. That’s where my case was. In a car.
I called United on the way home and described the situation. They told me to add the case’s serial number to the lost item report and the screenshot of the map showing the location of the case. They promised to get back to me within a week. Later, I decided to see if it had moved. It had:
That seems to be where the case does the evening shift these days.
In all this, two things stand out to me as remarkable.
The sophistication of Apple’s Find My feature. I never intentionally added the Airpods to my list of tracked devices; when I paired them with my phone, Apple did that automatically. Also, Apple individually tracks each AirPod and the case. Coming up on four weeks after I lost it, the case is still dutifully reporting its location to me, from a car that spends nights in Bayonne, NJ and days in the United employee parking lot.
Reputation damage for companies. Once I located my case using Find My, I went from feeling guilty about carelessly leaving it on a plane to feeling angry with United. I’d done what I was supposed to do, reporting the lost item before I even left the airport. For three weeks the airline assured me it was looking for the case, but it appears one of its employees had it the whole time — and was planning to keep it. Did company policies reward employees for turning in lost items? Or did they just count on employees to be honest?
I’ll give you an update next week on how United resolves this situation. But the proliferation of AirTags and trackable devices are about to put new pressures on companies’ relationships with their customers.
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