One Man, One Stolen Laptop... And Twitter, Prey (And A Purple Sarong?) To The Rescue

from the and-a-purple-sarong dept

A whole bunch of folks have been sending in random versions of the story of how author Sean Power recovered his stolen laptop despite being in another country, thanks to the power of social media, some open source software and some good samaritans. The "short" version is that Sean had his laptop stolen a few days ago in New York City, just a day before he had to go to Canada for a few days. He had some open source anti-theft software on there, called Prey. I'd never heard of it, but it gets excellent reviews. Anyway, after not being alerted to anything for a few days, Sean suddenly was notified that someone was using his laptop -- and he mentioned it on Twitter. From there, it helps to follow the story on Twitter, and thankfully Ryan Ozawa used Storify to post the relevant tweets:
You really should read the story as it happens, but basically some girl got wind of the story (it's still not entirely clear how... since she's not on Twitter), and went to the bar where the guy with the laptop was. She befriended some of the bartenders and others at the bar and found out that the guy with the laptop had some sort of connection with the bar. Reading through the various tweets, there is some confusion over who's who in this story, but the nameless girl in the purple sarong was soon backed up by another guy, Nick Reese, who just saw the story unfolding on Twitter and (as a brand new NYC resident) decided to jump in. The girl in the purple sarong apparently flirted with one of the two guys (Max) with the laptop, and got his business card. Sean had called the police, but they refused to go, since Sean hadn't filed a police report (he claims he didn't have time before leaving for Canada). Eventually, Sean called the phone number on the card, leading Max to call the other guy at the bar (Paulo) just as Nick and Purple Sarong Girl (PSG?) were confronting him. After some back and forth, Nick pulled out his phone and showed Paulo the photo of Paulo on the laptop from the webcam that Sean had gotten from Prey and posted to Twitter. Not surprisingly, that quickly led to the laptop (and the laptop bag) being handed over...

Nick and the girl in the purple sarong then put up a video of what happened which is both mildly entertaining and mildly frustrating (and it's not hard to assume that the girl has consumed a fair bit of alcohol by this point -- and I think I have to agree with the Village Voice that she may be the most annoying woman in the world) Update: The video has been set to private. Reese is claiming it's to "protect the identity" of the girl -- which seems odd...
All in all it's quite a story. There have been a few people suggesting this is just a publicity stunt for Prey, but plenty of folks are insisting that's not the case. To be honest, even if it is a publicity stunt for Prey, I gotta say that it's fantastically well-done, and amazingly compelling. I wouldn't care if it were a publicity stunt, because then the story would be about how to make brilliantly compelling marketing... But, again, most people are insisting that this was all real, and then the story is just about the wonders of modern technology combined with good people. A story of our times...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 11:00am

    I hope this is real.

    If it is then it's good to know that the software works. I've been using it on my laptop and my phone for a while now. From my tests it looked pretty good, but I've never had to use it for real.

    And thanks for the reminder. I'm going to install it on my new tablet now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    chuck, May 13th, 2011 @ 11:12am

    FAIL..."This Video is Private"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 11:15am

    Retribution most definitely isn't lame, what a pussy. Should nail that fucker to the wall when such evidence is available. Also, fuck the police. Universally useless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 12:19pm

    private video on this site seems ironic

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2011 @ 12:25pm

      Re:

      Techdirt rules say blocking content is only bad if record labels or Hollywood studios do it. Tech nerds can do whatever they like and get a free pass.

      Try to keep up.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 12:58pm

      Re:

      private video on this site seems ironic


      What's ironic about it? It was public when I wrote the story and the guy later changed it to private, supposedly to protect the privacy of the woman.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Rich, May 13th, 2011 @ 12:33pm

    FAIL

    The software used to track your laptop is basically useless unless it is installed directly into the EFI or a ghost partition. Anyone with any sense would do a complete reformat of the HDD's of the machine the first time it is turned on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    aldestrawk (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 12:59pm

    So, Prey, is basically the same system that was discussed in this recent Techdirt article.
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110505/00424214164/laptop-rental-provider-sued-spying-r enters-via-surreptitious-webcam-software.shtml#c326

    The "agent" running on the computer contacts a server not controlled by the computer's owner. The owner then logs into their account to trigger collection of information about the current user (thief). In both cases a thief will be caught by using surreptitiously collected information while the computer is being used. The differences are;

    1) Is someone who defaults on payments the same as a thief?

    2) There was apparently no process in place to deactivate the agent when the rented computer was purchased.

    This brings up the following questions:
    -When someone stops subscribing to Prey, is the agent still active?
    -Is the user told how to completely deactivate the agent at that time?
    -What mechanism prevents an admin for the Prey server from changing settings for an account and doing some snooping?
    -What is to prevent someone lending out such a computer to an unsuspecting soul and doing a little snooping of their own?
    -If law enforcement is aware that such software is installed on someone's computer can they do some remote viewing with a wiretap order, search warrant, subpoena, NSL, or none of the above?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      David (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 1:36pm

      Re:

      The difference, as I see it is that the user of the laptop is not told that the software is running, when he had legally acquired it. They also used it to spy on him when his payments were up to date, even though their records were wrong...

      The 2 situations are not equivalent

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        aldestrawk (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 5:05pm

        Re: Re:

        My understanding is that the computer was paid off, they bought it, but the records were screwed up. They, being the rental company, should have had a process in place to un-install the monitoring (agent) software when a rental was actually purchased. Apart from that whole incident I am pointing out the closeness of the situation where a renter defaults or steals the computer compared to an owner installing such theft recovery software himself.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Nick Coghlan (profile), May 13th, 2011 @ 11:39pm

      Re:

      While the lifehacker article Mike linked glosses over it, the advanced "Standalone" mode of Prey is designed precisely so that you don't *have* to trust their servers.

      Instead, you can review the open source code for the client (or pay someone you trust to do it for you) and set it up to email you directly with any reports. You just have to set up a URL that the client can check to decide whether or not to go into "I've been stolen" mode.

      Like any remote control software, it does create a new point of vulnerability for your system, but I expect many folks will consider the trade-off to be worth it.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    cornishninja, Aug 11th, 2012 @ 11:07am

    Why didn't you just threaten him, seeing that you had his financial info, his mugshot, his phone number, his… everything?

    I know the thief handed it all over in the end though so I guess that's the main thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    LAPTOP, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 9:02am

    agree or not,,,but thanks for your info

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This