In Box

iCrime Wave

The iPod’s distinctive white earbuds have become a cultural icon. But people have long suspected they may also mark users as targets for crime. New research conducted by the Washington-based Urban Institute suggests just that. In 2005, the year sales of iPods skyrocketed, incidents of violent crime in the United States increased for the first ...

The iPod’s distinctive white earbuds have become a cultural icon. But people have long suspected they may also mark users as targets for crime. New research conducted by the Washington-based Urban Institute suggests just that. In 2005, the year sales of iPods skyrocketed, incidents of violent crime in the United States increased for the first time in more than a decade. Similar upticks happened in Britain and Canada. Could iCrime be partially to blame?

Consider New York City’s subway system, where major felonies increased by 18 percent in the first three months of 2005. The spike coincided with a boom in iPod sales. And, if iPod and mobile-phone thefts are excluded, crime on New York’s subway actually fell by 3 percent. In Britain, officials now believe a surge in robberies in 2005 — including a 42 percent increase in crime on London’s Underground — is linked in part to iPods. "They’re carrying around an expensive device that’s obvious to a potential robber [and] that tunes them out," the Urban Institute’s John Roman says of iPod owners.

Of course, this is not the first time an iconic product has attracted the attention of criminals. Crime waves have coincided with the proliferation of expensive Nike sneakers and North Face jackets. Which raises the question of whether the iCrime wave might have been foreseen, or even prevented. "It could easily have been predicted that the iPod would be a desirable crime target," says Shaun Whitehead, a crime expert at Britain’s Loughborough University. "The sheer high visibility of the white iPod earphone wires is bad." He believes many robberies could have been prevented with a more thoughtful design.

Some law enforcement officials think they have identified the next potential target: T-Mobile’s Sidekick. The phones, which feature MP3 music players and Web browsing, are popular among celebrities like rapper Soulja Boy Tell’em, who dedicated a song to his Sidekick. That makes the New York Police Department nervous. "Often [they are] the only property taken in robberies," says a spokesman. That could mean iPod owners are off the hook, even as Sidekick users are left facing the music.

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola