People looting in the US off the back of widespread protests against the death of George Floyd received a shock this week when they discovered devices stolen from ransacked Apple stores were locked and transmitting location data to police.

In one photo posted to social media by a disappointed looter, the stolen iPhone politely asks to be returned to its store.

“Please return to Apple Walnut Street. This device has been disabled and is being tracked. Local authorities will be alerted.”

Apple’s mobile products have long come standard with the ‘Find My [device]’ feature to discourage theft and make it easier to find a lost iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

When a phone has been marked as ‘lost’ by its owner, it is automatically locked and will display a custom message on the lock screen. Location services will also be turned on so the owner can actually track down the misplaced or stolen device.

It’s hardly surprising that Apple had a similar version of the feature enabled on unsold devices sitting in stores with large glass frontages.

The looting begins

Many US cities have been in turmoil since protests erupted last week following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

What began as peaceful but emotional protests turned violent at times when protesters clashed with police and property was destroyed.

Protesters condemned the “opportunistic” looters for tarnishing the protests that are calling for genuine systemic change to address racial inequality across the US.

Footage shared on social media and in the news has been extraordinary.

One video shows see looters streaming out of an Apple store in Philadelphia while a police car burns out the front.

Because of the looting and destruction, Apple temporarily closed many of its stores in US cities, notifying customers that it made the decision “with the health and safety of our teams in mind”.

Stores had only been re-opened for a couple of months after the tech giant announced it was closing all stores outside China in March due to COVID-19.

Apple CEO calls for unity

In a memo re-published by Bloomberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees they must “stand up for one another” in recognition of the “fear, hurt, and outrage” caused by George Floyd’s killing.

“I have heard from so many of you that you feel afraid — afraid in your communities, afraid in your daily lives, and, most cruelly of all, afraid in your own skin,” Cook said.

“We can have no society worth celebrating unless we can guarantee freedom from fear for every person who gives this country their love, labour and life.

“To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines.”

Cook said the company would make donations to groups like the Equal Justice Initiative and was matching employee donations made through the Benevity platform.