Top-secret Microsoft prototype stolen in Barcelona

February 19, 2009, 6:46 PM UTC

Here’s the risk you take holding the cellphone industry’s annual gathering in Barcelona, a city famous for its world class pickpockets.

Only hours after Microsoft (MSFT) announced the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 — the software giant’s answer to Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and Google’s (GOOG) Android — a prototype phone loaded with a top-secret copy of the new software was lifted from an executive’s pocket, the
London Telegraph
reported Thursday.

Microsoft was “in a panic,” according to this report, fearing industrial espionage.

The phone had reportedly been loaned to the CEO of Telstra, the Australian telecommunications giant, to test before launch. He, in turn, handed it to an unnamed executive, who was apparently pickpocketed that evening. According to the Telegraph:

“A spokesman for the Australian company confirmed the theft had happened. ‘One of our product executives was given the phone to test the system. He had it with him at an organised evening event and it was stolen from him – we don’t know by whom.'” (link)

Microsoft declined to comment on the report.

Barcelona’s professional pickpockets often travel in groups and are experts at misdirection. They tend to target tourists and business travelers, confident that if they are caught their victims are unlikely to stick around long enough to appear in court as witnesses against them.

According to the Telegraph report, there have been repeated incidents of theft at this year’s Mobile World Congress, which ends today. The event’s organizers have reportedly threatened the Mayor of Barcelona to move it to another venue if the city does not do something to reduce the level of street crime.

Disclosure: The author lost his wallet in Barcelona last summer.

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