Monday, February 7, 2011

Using The Social Network To Deter Bike Theft

Can the social network be used to help prevent bicycle theft?  The folks at Bike Revolution think so.  They've come up with a pretty cool new way to deter bike thieves.  Via the company's website you may purchase a set of three "Pulse ID tags" which you place on your bike. Essentially, they are stickers that can be scanned with your smart phone (with a free downloadable app).  When scanned, an online database is automatically checked to determine if the bike is stolen.  If it is, alerts may "go out to the police, local clubs, shops and our army of Bike Detectives."  Your Facebook friends and Twitter followers may also be notified.  In Illinois, the company has partnered up with the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry. You can even set your ebay account to alert you if someone tries to sell the bike.  Critical to the program is the participation of regular folks, "Bike Detectives," armed with their smart phones and the Bike Revolution app.  If you see a bike with one of the tags, scan it.  If it has not been reported stolen then you just carry on your way.  If it comes back stolen, click the "Contact Us" button, and the system goes to work.  You can then go on your way, having done the bike's rightful owner a solid.

When I learned about this service I sent an email to the company's director, Briand Beausoleil, with a question:  Couldn't a bike thief just remove the sticker?  This was his response:

The tags are not ordinary. They're made of similar material as VIN material found in cars, only better. They're destructible, which means they come apart in bits...lots of bits. This takes an inordinate amount of time and x 3 that's considerable. You can't take them off in one piece either using knives etc., as they're very thin. They're also UV proof, water and weatherproof and can be read even with 25% of the tag destroyed. 

The Pulse ID number on the tag is also tied to the bike frame number so if the tag is removed the bike can still be traced using the frame # registered to the acct.  Taking the tag off leaves evidence of tampering and can even hurt the bike. The good folks at Penn Cycles in Minneapolis did just that, harming the bike in the process. Thieves can mark over the tags but again this just shows evidence of tampering and will make buyers suspicious.

For people wishing to buy second hand used bikes online, simply typing the serial number into our search database will link to other databases to provide the most thorough view of that bike's status. If that bike is listed on an register, it will come up. 

In all honesty, no tag will withstand concerted effort over time. But these have been designed to act as a second layer of deterrence, and with 3 tags, 2 smaller and 1 visible, branded anti-theft tag, many thieves will move on to the next bike. 

Remember too that thieves will want to sell these bikes on - to handlers or online sales. A handler deals in dozens of used bikes a day and hates traceable merchandise. He won't take kindly being delivered bikes that are traceable and may pass on the risk. This then has an effect on the thief, who will not make that mistake again and go on to easier prey. 

In addition, every time a bike is scanned, a record of that tag is displayed on the website, showing the location. So a bike can be tracked simply by scanning the tag. We're working on next gen tags that are even more robust.

In the end, nothing with stop a determined bike thief, but this seems to me an easy way to make their jobs harder.  I also just love the social aspect to this approach which utilizes the entire cycling community to prevent theft and help retrieve stolen bikes.

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