Call it digital sleuthing in the high-tech age. A man's MacBook is stolen. He activates a $15 application, snaps photos of the alleged thief, posts them on a blog, and, two months later, the computer is retrieved and the suspect is arrested by the cops.
The Oakland, Calif., cops didn't immediately spring into action, though. The case got a huge boost from social media.
Help from Twitter
According to the blog kept by Joshua Kaufman, whose Apple MacBook was stolen from his Oakland, Calif., apartment on March 21, he reported the crime immediately and then began collecting photos of the person using his computer with the help of Hidden, an app that lived up to its name. He posted on his Tumblr blog photos of a man sleeping, using the computer, and driving (with the laptop open).
But the crime was given low priority, evidently because the value of the computer is relatively low compared to other goods, until Kaufman started tweeting the photos to 6,000 followers after he got a fix on his computer's location.
Tweets linking to Kaufman's blog, This Guy Has My MacBook, spread to reporters, including this one, and the story soon started appearing on web sites and blogs. ABC News said that when its Good Morning America reporter called the Oakland Police Department, checking if the blog was a hoax or just a promotion, the cops reopened the case and in short order lured the suspect to an arrest. Citing police, ABC identified the suspect as Muthanna Alde-Bashi, a 27-year-old cabbie from Alameda.
The computer was recovered and returned to Kaufman, who hasn't revealed details about himself or commented beyond his blog posts and tweets.
The story is great publicity both for U.K.-based Hidden, which offers computer protection plans ranging from $15 per year for one computer to $395 for up to 100 computers for businesses, with theft-recovery assistance included. It's also good publicity for Apple, showing the loyalty of its users, and for Twitter.
But as much it may teach users to protect their hardware, the story could also serve as a warning to thieves to beware of tracking software.
Cat's Out of the Bag?
Consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said that while a professional thief may wipe a computer's memory, knowing there are programs such as Lo-Jack that may track them, "casual thieves typically aren't known for their long attention spans or their avid interest in either tech publications or news shows."
Cybersecurity expert Graham Cluely of Sophos said most computers are stolen by "opportunistic thieves rather than tech-savvy criminals. However, if, say, a new version of Mac OS X included Find My Mac software as standard, then thieves might become more clued up and begin to disable it, if possible."
Enderle said the low price of laptops has made them a low priority for thieves because the secondary market is weak.
"What that means is professional thieves pick other things that are more valuable and more easily transported -- jewelry, money, etc.," said Enderle. "Laptops are generally stolen by opportunists, the same folks who steal GPS devices. Also, often it is the personal information (for identity theft) that is the more valuable part of the laptop anyway."
Posted: 2011-06-29 @ 11:51am PT
@BVG: You haven't the slightest clue what you're talking about! Wiretap laws only apply to *AUDIO* recordings, NOT photographs, and are specifically limited to telecommunications devices.
Posted: 2011-06-06 @ 6:27am PT
Anything that takes pictures of someone without their knowledge can be nailed with a breach of federal wiretap regulations. So this software is not advisable...go with something that will just trace the IP address, give it to the police, let them handle.
Posted: 2011-06-05 @ 10:27am PT
nice I need to get this app. for my laptop.
what is the website to sign up.
Posted: 2011-06-04 @ 1:18pm PT
I saw this on CNN that thief feels so stupid
Posted: 2011-06-03 @ 5:02pm PT
He should have used Prey (www.preyproject.com). It's open source, free and it works on OSX, Windows and Linux.