Police and Anti-Theft Software Combine to Nab MacBook Thief

Computer app and Tumblr help California man track, recover his stolen computer.

ByABC News
June 1, 2011, 2:35 PM

June 2, 2011 — -- Two months after his laptop was stolen from his apartment, Joshua Kaufman today reclaimed it at the Oakland, Calif., Police Department, thanks to the combined forces of a police investigation and an unusual sleuth -- a clever computer application.

"I'm here to pick up my MacBook!" Kaufman proclaimed to his nearly 6,000 Twitter followers this afternoon after arriving at the police station.

After losing the Apple Macbook in March to an apartment bandit, Kaufman, an interaction designer from San Francisco, activated an application he'd previously installed on the computer, called "Hidden," to locate it -- along with the alleged thief.

The app tracks the computer's location to within a few meters and uses a built-in camera to take photos. In addition to a street address, Kaufman was able to take screenshots of the computer in use and snap photos of the alleged thief driving, sitting shirtless in his bed, and even napping on a couch.

He alerted police, who told Kaufman they were unable to help due to "a lack of resources," according to Kaufman's blog post.

The Oakland Police Department conceded that a heavy case load can hinder some investigations. "We definitely have to prioritize our cases," said Holly Joshi, public information officer for the Oakland Police Department. "We get about 2,400 theft cases per month and we only have three theft investigators. There's a very high demand as far as theft investigations are concerned,"

Without a suspect in custody or any leads to follow up on, the police didn't have much to further investigate.

"Unfortunately his report was filed due to human error and it was not followed up with," Joshi said.

Undeterred, Kaufman took to Tumblr for some Internet justice, launching a blog called "This Guy Has My MacBook," loaded with the photos of the alleged perpetrator.

The site developed into a minor viral sensation, but some, readers were skeptical.

"Unfortunately some people thought it was a viral marketing stunt, which it wasn't," Toby de Havilland, CEO of Flipcode LTD, the distributor of the Hidden app, told ABC News.

But any doubts were erased late Tuesday when the Oakland police were alerted by a call from "Good Morning America's" Becky Worley to the police media relations department.

"A media outlet called to ask if it was a hoax or if it was true. It was the first I had ever heard about it, so I located the burglary report he made back in March. As I did more research, I realized this wasn't a hoax -- it was a guy trying to locate his laptop," Joshi said.

Shortly after, the department notified Kaufman that there was movement with his case.

"Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have the attention of the Oakland Police, who are tracking this guy down RIGHT NOW!" Kaufman wrote on his Tumblr site Tuesday evening.

Less than an hour later, he received a call from the police informing him that a suspect had been arrested.

"We called in undercover officers and were able to lure the suspect to the 400 block of Alice Street in Oakland," Joshi explained.

The suspect, 27-year-old Muthanna Alde-Bashi, was interviewed by investigators and has made some admission statements, according to police.

Now that Kaufman has been reunited with his laptop, there is growing hope for others. De Havilland said "Hidden" has seen a bump in website traffic and new users since Kaufman launched his Tumblr.

"The promotion has been awesome!" de Havilland said.

The application was initially created by a group of friends after one of their laptops was stolen. After using the program internally, the company released it to the public a few years later. It's since picked up hundreds of thousands of users.

Perhaps "Hidden" has earned a user for life in Kaufman. "Joshua has thanked us! We're really thrilled he got his MacBook back!" de Havilland said.