Amazing race in a shopping cart


This is a warning story to all of you, who sometimes get a bit careless when busy and multi-tasking…

Amazing summer time in Finland (tied record amount of consecutive over +25 Celsius degree days) is over and I am gradually firing on all cylinders at work. I managed not to be engaged with ICT quite well during my vacation, but one particular incident reminded me about how technological advances help people to cope with human errors.

It all started when I managed to crash the glass of my tablet on my summer cottage by inadvertently dropping it on the ground. Consequently, after returning to civilization I tried to get it fixed, but the work queue was so long, I decided to postpone that. After all, the tablet user interface was still working despite the fact that there was a hole on the bottom of its surface.

So, I took the tablet with me, walked back to local hyper-market and thoughtlessly put the tablet to the front of the shopping cart. Bought the daily groceries and headed to the parking hall to embark home.

After arriving home, I started to unpack the groceries and, to my great regret, noticed that the tablet was missing! It was not in the bag, nor in the car seat or anywhere else I usually leave it.

I panicked, since this was the first time I managed to actually lose a phone or similar outside the privacy of my own home. I instantly figured out having left it on the shopping cart near the parking lot. I called 118 to contact the mall service-something to check, whether somebody had returned it there. After a standard queuing on the line, a pleasant voice told me there was nothing so far, but took my number and promised to call back, if miraculously the tablet would appear there. They also advised me to call the customer services of the two major retailers, both of which did not respond to my calls in decent time.

So, I decided to take my faith into my own hands and rushed back to the mall’s parking lot to check, if the cart, and the tablet within, would against all odds still be where I left them. Of course, once I arrived to the shopping mall the carts had already been removed to the cart park consisting of some thousands carts that have been in random order collected from all over the gigantic parking hall to the ground floor elevator area. I then amused and confused fellow-shoppers by lurking around the hall trying to spot “my cart”, but to no avail, of course. The cart and the ‘embedded’ tablet just did not want to identify themselves.

Now what?

I rushed to shopping mall service desks to check, whether by now some friendly fellow citizen would have returned the tablet there. Of course, that was not the case, and I started to feel really bad about myself.

I did not actually trust the 4-digit password would be enough to protect my personal and business data. As is the case today, I did not care too much about losing the gadget itself, but the information content inside is another matter. I could already see my boss, IT department and wife, not necessarily in that order, yelling at me about the way I handle valuable assets, like family photos, exposed to my disposal.

I started to move from resolution to mitigation and figured out how to avoid exposing my precious data to externals. Again, the usual worry about carrier fees, as was the case before, was not my primary issue, as would have been the case in the past decades. Damn information age – when my whole life is digitally stored into this ‘hybrid’ cloud – on-devices environment!

I returned back home again, disappointed about my fluffy behavior and inability to resolve the problem myself “on HW level”.

So, what do you do, when Tier 0 self-service just does not do the trick for you? You call the company service desk, given you remember the number. So I did, listened to IVR and eventually got to speak with a real person. Now came the tricky question. They could not instantly do much to assist me. They were of course able to close the subscriber connection (the SIM card), so there will be no costs of network usage.

Well, that is just wonderful. However, that would not prevent the thief (of course I would not forget anything, it must be a thief that took it) of using Wi-Fi connection, should they manage to crack the 4-digit code. To make matters worse, if I close the network connection, remote management becomes impossible, effectively making any attempts to affect the content impossible. Clearly, at this point this was not an option.

After a disconcerting silence, the service desk person discovered a way to remotely wipe the tablet by using our corporate crown jewel, MDM (Mobile Device Management) service. For a user, MDM seems to be an application running in your mobile devices giving administrative users access to your device. What I did not know, until now, is that there is a self-service web portal by which I could manage my own (registered) devices, e.g. to remotely wipe or lock them. So, here I was, unable to find my gadget and trying not to expose my data to unwanted usage. But at least I now had a chance to make sure the data would get wiped, given that the mobile network connection was still available and there was some energy left in the device battery.

So, I successfully logged in to corporate MDM portal with my corporate credentials, and miraculously managed to connect with the tablet device after page refresh. I was given basically three options: lock the device, partially wipe the device (business data) or full wipe (all the data). I opted to try the partial wipe first, and after a while the system reported that wiping data was successfully completed.

Err, yes. I was at the same time satisfied and pissed off, since I had now managed to protect the corporate side of the problem, but the personal security problems where far from resolved. Additionally, the device of course stopped responding to my MDM requests, so I could not even do the full wipe any more, should I decide to give up all hope about getting the device and its personal contents back. (To make matters worse, I almost managed to full wipe my mobile phone in the process of toying with the management portal…). I was really not calm and collected.

No what, I asked myself. Hmm… What do you do nowadays, if you don’t know what you do? You google it!

So, I did (and cursed I had not done that before) and found out that there is this application you can use to remotely connect and locate your mobile device to do some magic with it. Great! Maybe everything is not lost, and luckily I was smart enough not to have my SIM card closed, so I could theoretically still connect and communicate with the “smart device”. I am aware that it is easy for a thief to remove the SIM card, thereby effectively disabling any remote management of the device, but I was hopeful the device would still be in the cart hidden in between a million other shopping carts, or better yet, some law-obeying citizen had found it and was about to return it to the customer service.

So, I logged in to this personal cloud service, managed to remember my username/password combo after some trial and error, and even found the app that is designed to help idiots like me who cannot keep good care of their belongings. (Apparently, I am not the only one).

Now, I was indeed shown the location of the tablet and was again given three options: ‘play a sound’, ‘lost mode’ and ‘Erase’. I was also told I would get notified, should the location of the tablet change. Great! Essentially, now I had some hope again! The device was still at the shopping center and I could communicate with it. I did not bother to read the manual, so I opted to go with the lost mode first. That functionality enabled me to input a message to the tablet screen indicating that the tablet was missing and providing my contact details. Ok, now I really had a chance that someone would contact me, should he/she find the device and have the decency to try to return it to its owner. To improve the changes, I decided to play some sounds and kept on pushing the sound button – and consequently I actually heard a notification sound! Disappointingly, it was not the sound of the missing tablet, but the email notification sound of my laptop verifying that the device had actually played a sound.

Fantastic! Now, at least somebody else might find it, if not me. From the application I could also see that the battery of the tablet was indeed running out with only some 10 % life left on it. My blood pressure again rose to alarming levels. I had to move quickly, either to find the device, or to completely erase its contents.

Enlightened about all these new capabilities available, I decided to again drive to mall and try to contact the tablet with this fancy app I used with my laptop. So, I did drive back to parking lot and stormed myself to the cart-parking area, but then the technology suddenly turned against me. I could not connect to internet with my laptop (with which I run the app) either by mobile data or Wi-Fi, and the browser app wouldn’t start in the browser of my mobile phone, since apparently that was off wrong “mobile eco-system”. Oh crap! How can this be true?! I was devastated about the power of the strongest law of nature – the Murphy’s law.

So, what do you do if your IT does not work? You boot it! So, I did, and voila, everything started working with the laptop mobile connection and its apps.

I rushed downstairs again with my laptop and started hitting the ‘play a sound’ button like a maniac. The room was very noisy and the boys collecting the carts were constantly annoyed with me disturbing them organizing the carts during the rush hour. But it was all well worth the trouble since finally, a tiny little signal was pushing through all the noise of the mall!!! I asked staff to help me, but the cart boys did not hear the sound at first, and looked as me as if I was insane (which was not far from the truth by the hour).

Eventually we all concluded that there really was a beeping sound coming somewhere. I was thrilled! Now I really was close to actually resolving my home-made issue with a dexterous combination of modern technology and old school brute force. Hence, after a couple of more quite humiliating moments, we finally spotted the right row of carts (of course it was in the middle of the carts havoc), and managed to make room just enough to get the tablet.

Yippee, I recall shouting. The punishment was over! I warmly thanked God and all the staff members for their assistance and patience, and headed home to see how I could reinstall or reload the corporate stuff in and all that jazz…

Now, to the lessons learned of this whole story:

  • You should not put any personal belongings to the shopping cart
  • Corporate IT and commercial consumer HW/SW vendors do have amazing tools available to help you deal with your devices and data, if you just know what to do, and how to do it
  • You should make sure that you have all the necessary systems in place to manage these kind of personal disasters
  • You should use better protection than the standard pass-code

I wish you all very safe shopping experiences!