Blown To Bits

A Good Case of Spying

Saturday, May 10th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

We say that technology is neither good nor bad, it all depends how it’s used. The forces of good won one yesterday.

Kait Duplega’s laptop was stolen. Sometime later, a friend called her to say she was glad to learn that it had been recovered. The friend saw that the laptop was in use and connected to the Internet.

The New York Times story doesn’t explain how the friend figured that out. Perhaps Ms. Duplega uses Skype or some social networking software that informs her friends when her computer is connected to the Internet so they can contact her. In any case, the computer was still in the hands of the thieves. Ms. Duplega, who works at the Apple store in Westchester County, used a remote-access program to snap a photo of the thieves using the camera mounted above the laptop’s screen. Her roommate recognized the men in the picture, and the police arrested them.

This is a funny story. So is the story about the thief who stole a Global Positioning System and turned it on, which not only helped him know where he was, but made it easy for the police to locate him. But these tales are a little disquieting too. Do you care if your friends know whether your laptop is connected to the Internet? Depending on your habits, they might take that to mean you are ignoring them. In my own case, it would pretty accurately tell you when I am commuting or traveling, as those are about the only times I don’t have my laptop online. But if someone stole my computer, I might wish that like Ms. Duprega, I had set it up to share a few bits with the world about what it was doing. And what could someone else do with the bits on your computer if it were stolen? The men who stole Ms. Duprega’s machine were apparently planning to buy a bed–perhaps using her credit card number, stashed away on her computer.

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