This Guy Has My Macbook: to catch a laptop thief, in photos (update: CAUGHT!)

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Joshua Kaufman says his laptop was stolen, and that it looks like this guy in the photo above has it. Now, the tumblr equivalent of a slow-speed freeway police chase: thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com. The software helping to surveil and document the apparent thief is called Hidden.

On March 21, 2011, my MacBook was stolen from my apartment in Oakland, CA. I reported the crime to the police and even told them where it was, but they can't help me due to lack of resources. I'm currently in the process of contacting the mayor's office. Meanwhile, I'm using the awesome app, Hidden, to capture these photos of this guy who has my MacBook.

UPDATE: They caught him, and the stolen Macbook is going back home! May 31, 8:37 PM PST.

ARRESTED! An Oakland police officer just called me to let me know that they arrested the guy in my photos! BOOYA! The police used my evidence (email which pointed to a cab service) that he was a driver and tricked him into picking them up. Nice work OPD!

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Below, a final photo snapped of the apparent thief, sleeping next to the MacBook before he goes to the pokey.

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Not at all unlike what happened in the case of Sean Power (Twitter), who used the software Prey to find, photograph, and ultimately catch his laptop's thief—and get his laptop back.

(thanks, tara!)

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  1. Looks like he might want to use some disinfectant on that laptop if he gets it back.

  2. Any word on if this actually legit or not? I had seen some (maybe cynical) speculation that it was a viral marketing campaign for the software.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks this a cool application of scary technology?
    Excuse me while I go curl up ina fetal position in the corner; perhaps Big Bro won’t be able to see me there.

  4. I trust @jmk isn’t effing around. But looks like the nekkid dude in bed is sure effing around with his laptop. GROSS!!

  5. I’d go around to the local antique stores and show them the picture. Somebody’s going to remember selling that bed to a tiny bobblehead doll with That Girl’s hair.

    1. bwahahahaha! My sentiments exactly…btw…”That Girl’s hair”? I know how old you are…..approximately (said in a sing song-y voice).

  6. Note about Prey:

    I’ve taken a look at Prey’s source code. I think its a really cool application in theory, but I’m not really that happy with how security is actually implemented. I wrote something up about it a while back, and updated it today, as BB brought it back to the front of my head.

    http://shrp.me/docs/dont_use_prey.php

  7. Looking at this dude – I’m curious about the details. He broke into the apartment, and took ONLY the laptop? That’s what it looks like on Tumblr. Dude’s apartment is full of old furniture (and people). Would be funny if he is stealing tech to pay for his old furniture habit.

  8. We can’t assume gross nude dude, apparently a known thief, is necessarily frolicking in his own bed in the provided photo.

  9. Open-source software called “vuwer” that appears to do something similar:

    http://stumpy.vuse.vanderbilt.edu/VUWER.htm

    It probably lacks the polish of this program — but I’ve set it up for my macbook before, and it’s not all that cumbersome to do. You’re advised to set up a new gmail account specifically for surveillance data sent back from the missing laptop.

    I’ve also tested it (but have not had to test it in a real life situation) and it appears to work as advertised.

  10. hoax or not, for my entire career as “the computer guy”, I believed that once the hardware left your hands you had basically NO chance to recover. That has proved true until recently.

    rewind 2.5 years ago… a friend had a party, the next morning his laptop was missing… friend wrote it off as a loss…

    fwd 4 weeks ago, toshiba sends an email thanking him for his recent trouble ticket for parts! friend comes to me asking what he should do. I say to call toshiba to see what information he can get on the source of the trouble call. he gets a partial email address and name. I help him fill in the missing information. he contacts the original police agency that he made the original report with. turns out, someone brought 3 laptops to a company to fix up and (rightfully so) turned them over to the investigating officer.

    after obtaining the bill of sale, got the laptop back.

    wow.

    the law, works? ;)

    1. This reminds me of a conversation I just had with a couple of Turkish friends. We were discussing the police response to a demonstration in Istanbul. I told them at in America kids are taught that “the policeman is your friend.” (at they did some 40 years ago…) Here, in Turkey, I’m told that most people do not like nor trust the police. Here’s just a little bit of proof that at least some of the police in America (I’m betting the vast majority) are indeed our friends.

  11. OK, so back in March, he posted a screenshot from Hidden showing a woman apparently using the laptop. In the caption, he said he wasn’t suggesting she stole it, she probably bought it from a crackhead. Then nothing for two months, now this series of pictures of this guy. Kaufman’s done nothing to disabuse the many commenters of their logical conclusion that this is the actual thief. Several folks have suggested confronting him, pointing out where he probably lives etc. Hope this doesn’t end badly.

  12. Hrm. Clearly a school taking covert cam photos of students in their bedroom is Bad Wrong. OK, using tracking software to recover a stolen laptop is a noble cause. Where do we draw the line tho? When is a private citizen taking covert photos of a naked man in his private bedroom and publishing the photos on the web OK?

    What if this dude did nothing wrong? (Other then an unfortunate choice of hairstylists, that is.) What if he bought the laptop at a pawnshop, or something? Does he deserve naked photos of himself with the caption “THIEF!” plastered all over the net?

    Even if he is the thief, does he still deserve that?

    1. Good point, and to blur the distinction even further, the school in question was attempting to recover…a stolen laptop.

  13. Geek Squad needs to form an elite combat unit for situations like these:

    Asshole Patrol

    1. I’m with you, this seems really fake. Especially “I’m using the awesome ap Hidden”….could be wrong, but this really smells like viral advertising.

  14. Doesn’t all of this leave him open to a lawsuit? (especially if that ISN’T the thief).

    1. Since receiving stolen goods is a crime, I’d go with no. I don’t know what the standard of due diligence is for buying a laptop that fell off a truck, but I’d guess that being pictured with stolen goods would put you in a poor position to win a lawsuit.

  15. If this were my laptop, I’d be more concerned about thieves gaining access to my personal and banking data than the laptop itself. I’d prefer a remote self destruct option over a remote peeping tom option. Or at least use full disk encryption or something so strangers cannot just change your passwords and login.

  16. Hate to be the killjoy, but I have tape over the camera of my laptop just for situations like these. I don’t want my mug popping up on some blogroll somewhere. No I didn’t steal the friggin thing like That Guy.

  17. “I reported the crime to the police and even told them where it was, but they can’t help me due to lack of resources…”

    Seems like I hear that line all the time in the cop’s response to any crime that doesn’t involve rape, murder, kidnapping or some sort of “national security” offense. I am so broke these days, it almost makes me feel like burglary might be an easy, risk-free way to get by until a decent job comes along.

    1. A friend of mine had his car window smashed and laptop stolen. The police response, as is the police response to every completed crime in Palm Springs was, “Go online and fill out a report.”

      Oh, I take that back. When my car was stolen from in front of the police station, they send a bicycle cop to chase it.

      1. Just moved in to a new apartment a couple weeks ago. One of the house-mate’s bicycle was stolen off the back porch the very first day. Police response was the same… fill out a report and kiss it goodbye.

        Anyone want to go partners in the burglary biz? Maybe I’ll try to get some start up funds from Kickstarter.

        1. I will tell you that if you roll through a stop sign here, four patrol cars will show up and eight officers will spend an hour giving you a ticket. We have certainly not the world’s worst cops, but possibly the laziest.

          I looked into the front seat of the patrol car of the beat cop in my old neighborhood, and it was a nest of hundreds of fast food wrappers topped with a container of Axe body spray. It might not have been so traumatic if he weren’t a pudgy, balding 45 year-old with a copstache.

          My interactions with the police in San Francisco were like being on an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, they were so friendly and helpful.

          1. Recently, somebody at work had his iphone 4 stolen. We’d previously hooked it into the work ‘find my iphone’ mobileme account.

            So it got snatched from his car. That night, it spent the night at a house. A few screenshots, and two phonecalls to the police and there was a squad car there the next morning. The phone was retrieved, slightly damaged.

            Sometimes you just get lucky with the police, I guess. The ones I spoke to were really intrigued by how accurate I could be with the phones location.

  18. Not for nothing, but the bed in the first photo seems sort of expensive for a common criminal to own.

  19. Colour me stupid but how does Hidden take a photo of the thief sleeping next to the closed macbook?

    1. It’s not just that. Not only did “Hidden” take a picture of the thief next to the computer from somewhere else in the room. It also collected detailed, specific information about his job as a cab driver and that information was then passed on to police. The police, previously too lazy to even investigate, decided to do an undercover sting operation on the guy, just like in NCIS! And then as soon as they said they were police, he confessed everything right away and they got it all on tape befere he asked for a lawyer! And then they issued a search warrant on his apartment and recovered the laptop.

      Yeah right, a very believable story.

    1. So chewing khat gives you nice furniture? Nice side effect.
      He could have been just stoned on weed, tipsy on whine or just tired.

  20. A few weeks a go, we chased an unknown person who stole my girlfriend’s iPhone through Cologne (Germany) – in a police car. It was fortunately registered with MobileMe so we could track in on the map with about 30 seconds delay. Felt like “Scotland Yard” (the board game), as the thief first walked through the city, then used the subway. We finally caught her at a bus stop. One hour of adrenaline :-)

  21. reminds me of this:

    Of course, the owner was a IT professional, which meant he was extra cruel.

  22. why whould he have the macbook opened all the time? especially in the “driving away with my macbook” photo.

  23. >> Yeah right, a very believable story.

    To me, the most unbelievable part of the story is that Mr. Kaufman went to the effort to install Hidden on his laptop, but did not bother to put a password on his own administrative account.

    Looking at the website Kaufman created, you can see a screenshot of the guy deleting Kaufman’s account. That requires administrative access. So either Kaufman had the password in plain view, he removed it entirely, or the thief was knowledgeable enough to reset the password with an OS X installer disk. None of those explanations seems very plausible to me.

    1. From the Hidden app’s FAQ:

      Q. What if my user account has a password? Will Hidden still work?

      A. Yes. Hidden will still work, although we strongly suggest all hidden users set up a Guest Account. This will encourage the thief to use your computer before trying to sell it.

  24. Do people really think the small silver item on the couch (i.e. a TV remote) is the macbook? Seriously? The wording is imprecise but I’m pretty sure that he means the couch is next to the desk that the computer is sitting on.

    The only thing that seems really odd is the photo from in the car, but I’d bet that it’s not actually a photo of him “driving away with the macbook” but it’s him checking it out sometime later after driving away. It does look like he’s got one hand on the wheel as if he were driving, but it’s hard to tell – could just be parked somewhere and decided to open it up and look.

    Also, assuming it’s real, it is a little ridiculous that the thief was able to figure out the admin password. A macbook should be essentially useless to anyone but an authorized user (unless you enable the guest account) – I know you can disable most of the security precautions, but it’d be stupid to (yes, I’m sure most people do it anyway). It’s really not that hard, and hardly any more difficult than leaving it entirely unsecured. For example, it should always require the user password to restore from sleep or screen saver. I have mine set with a one minute grace period if the screen goes to sleep by itself, and have a “hot corner” that locks the screen immediately for situations where other people would have immediate access if I got up.

    Finally, this program presumably must install itself, silently, into every new user account – with settings intact – for it to work as seen. On an older version of Windows I can see that working, but that’s a little far-fetched, in my mind, with OS X. So, who knows?

  25. ( [tap,tap] is this thread still on? )
    Not the most solid evidence, but his tweets provide some details. http://twitter.com/#!/jmk
    It seems, if this were a hoax, it would be a fraudulent police report. And he would be sinking ever
    deeper with every news report — *if* it’s not true. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but with time,
    this appears to be more and more legitimate. If one wants to be thorough, you can acquire
    the police report here http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/OPD/s/document/index.htm
    (I don’t feel up to it, thanks.)

    @penguinchris – I think it’s entirely plausible he puts it to sleep without requiring a password.
    I use a compilcated password, which I don’t feel like punching in every time I lift the lid.

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