Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Grand Theft Thwart-o*

Thieves caught by the gadgets they've stolen. Ingenious uses of social media to get out of tight situations. Over the last few months, a number of items have popped up in my feedreader that could be summed up by one or other of those descriptions.

Two (related) questions, strike me:

As the technology we carry with us every day becomes more attractive to criminals might it also be becoming more resistant to theft?

Could the proliferation of wi-fi, GPS, and Web 2.0 features on our gadgets, perhaps, be used to make us safer?

Let's have a look at a few of these stories.

- Most amusingly, there's the story of a Japanese man who, upon noticing food going missing from his fridge, set up a security camera to send photos to his mobile. He soon discovered that a homeless woman had been living in one of his storage closets - probably for a year.

- A few mobile phone thieves have been caught out (though not always caught) by phone-cams set to instantly upload photos to Flickr, or similar. Here's a laptop thief, too.

- A woman whose flat was broken into, and her Mac stolen, was able to photograph the culprit by triggering her Mac's webcam remotely.

- Journalist James Karl Buck managed to shorten his stay in an Egyptian jail by Twittering the word 'ARRESTED' from his mobile phone.

- Most recently, I happened upon this story about a woman whose lost video camera uploaded footage of the person who'd found it - its Eye-Fi memory card automatically activated itself when fortuitously within range of a compatible unsecured wireless network.

Some of the stories above involve luck, others ingenuity, some of them contain both, but for me what they all point to is the possibility of the technology we use every day being capable of protecting both itself and us.

Those stories alone will, no doubt, have given the tech-minded reader an idea or two towards that aim; setting your phone to automatically upload pictures to Flickr (if you have an agreeable data tariff), for instance, or finding out how to control your Mac remotely via the web. The existence of even suggests the possibility of using your camera-phone as a kind of personal CCTV camera.

But with so many things now designed to connect wirelessly to the internet, increasing numbers of free wi-fi hotspots, GPS enabled phones and cameras, 3G+ networks, my question is: how long before enterprising gadget manufacturers start creating their own built-in anti-theft or personal security features? Surely there's a great marketing opportunity for someone there; a killer feature to differentiate your phone/camera/etc from the rest.

All the more so, since these items feature prominently amongst the most stolen gadgets.

Until something along the lines of GadgetTrak comes as standard, though, I guess there's always... well, just GadgetTrak, really. Apart from a few, less general services, I really couldn't find anything else.


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