Laptop thieves, be warned — owners of these devices know the power of the internet, and they’re not afraid to use it! An Oakland man was recently able to retrieve his stolen MacBook by using the Hidden app to take screen captures of the thief and the thief’s actions on the computer (including the thief logging in to his email). He gave the information to the police, but it wasn’t until the blog he created about the theft went viral over twitter, and Good Morning America contacted the police for comment, that an arrest was made and the MacBook returned. The combination of specialized apps and social media are now able to bring down otherwise anonymous computer thieves. Or, not-so-anonymous thieves, as the case may be.
So do laptop owners have to be concerned about privacy? It doesn’t look like they have to worry about the privacy rights of the thieves: since it’s the owner’s computer and their software, the thief can’t very well complain. Essentially these programs act like a security camera, and the defense that security footage violated a thief’s privacy hasn’t seemed to float in court yet. Furthermore, since the images simply capture a thief using the computer — as opposed to actually stealing it — police can only charge suspects with suspicion of possessing stolen property.
Laptop owners may need to worry about their own privacy though, since many of these laptop spyware apps work by sending the computer’s location information, unencrypted, to a central server. If any of these servers were hacked, the user’s information would be made available. Some apps do ensure that only the user can un-encrypt the computer’s information. In any case, a savvy thief could always wipe the computer’s harddrive before connecting it to the internet, but judging on past case samples, they don’t.
Above the Law also reported recently on a string of laptop thefts at University of Chicago Law School, which inspired one student to a) tell his classmates how to track down a stolen computer by tracing the ISP through their own gmail account and b) propose a sting operation with a cheap, decoy computer. Considering the resourcefulness of the internet and legal communities, let’s hope we see a reduction of tech theft in the future.
- This is What Hidden Lets You See When Your MacBook is Stolen [Theft] (gizmodo.com)
- News From The Future: Theft Impossible (makezine.com)
- Police and Anti-Theft Software Combine to Nab MacBook Thief (abcnews.go.com)