In my line of work you can tell it's summer when - short of any real news to send out - the vendors start sending us the results of their latest surveys.

Most of these are about as newsworthy as "Small earthquake, no-one killed", but every once in a while something a bit more thought-provoking slips through. It's not always the thought that the vendor wanted to provoke, however...

So when Dell told me it'd commissioned The Ponemon Institute to look into how well business travellers protect the data on their laptops - to promote Dell's data protection services, of course - it wasn't the claim that 800,000 laptops go missing each year in airports world-wide that caught my eye.

The tale that 40 percent of business travellers haven't backed up the data on their machines didn't really surprise me either.

OK, it was slightly worrying to read that my local airport, London Heathrow, has the worst record in Europe, with 900 laptops being lost or stolen each week - that's 26 per terminal per day!

But what I really found myself wondering about was the statement that 57 percent of missing laptops are never recovered - because that in turn means 43 percent are recovered.

Are their owners perhaps using a tracking system, such as the one Dell is reselling and which we reported on here? Or is it just that some travellers forgot their laptop bags in the executive lounge, but they were still there when they remembered?


It looks as if someone got the numbers a bit mixed up when they wrote up the study for us journalists - Dr Larry Ponemon says the 57 percent figure comes from interviews with airport staff and refers only to those laptops that end up in an airport's Lost Property department, and not the ones that are actually stolen.

The scary thing there is that a mere 43 percent of us manage to get a genuinely-lost (ie. mislaid, not stolen) laptop back. Dr Larry adds: "I believe that many airports' lost & found (especially those controlled by airport security) require proof of ownership such as knowledge of the computer's serial number. Airport authorities are reluctant to turn on the device for fear that this might violate privacy."

The lesson there is to make sure you have a note somewhere - preferably not in your laptop bag - of your machine's serial number, or stick an "If found, please call this number" label on the outside.

I'm still wondering though what proportion of "missing" airport laptops turn out to be genuinely stolen, rather than simply mislaid. Unfortunately, that's not in the survey - maybe next time?