MacTrak Posts Laptop Thieves’ Photos, Locations to Flickr

11/12/08Follow @wroush

Woe to the hoodie-wearing miscreant who steals a Mac laptop equipped with MacTrak. He’s likely to find his photo plastered all over the Internet—and the police at his door.

MacTrak is a beta application for Macs introduced today by Portland, OR-based GadgetTrak. It’s similar in conception to Absolute Software’s LoJack for Laptops and to Adeona, a free open-source tracking system released this summer by computer-science researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego. But it has a couple of interesting twists that may increase your chances of getting back your stolen laptop—or that, at the very least, will cause greater embarrassment for the thief.

First, once you activate the $59.95 program by logging into your GadgetTrak account, the software uses the laptop’s built-in iSight camera to snap a photo of whoever is using the machine every 30 minutes. If the laptop is connected to the Internet, the software will automatically e-mail these photos to you and post them to your account at the Flickr photo-sharing website (see image below). You can set these images to be private or public—depending on how much help you want catching the thief.

Second, MacTrak uses Wi-Fi-based location-finding technology provided by Boston-based Skyhook Wireless to determine the laptop’s latitude and longitude, usually to within about 20 meters. This information is uploaded to Flickr along with the iSight photos. You can then get help recovering your device by forwarding the information to GadgetTrak or directly to law-enforcement authorities.

MacTrak Flickr PostUnlike the LoJack for Laptops system, GadgetTrak’s software doesn’t rely on a monitoring center, doesn’t send location information to the company, and doesn’t have backdoor access to the laptop’s operating system—measures the company, on its website, calls “an invasion of privacy.”

The Adeona system is also designed to preserve laptop owners’ privacy, and has the added attraction of being free. But the GadgetTrak’s positioning systems gives it a leg up: Adeona can only tell you which Internet routers communicated with your stolen laptop, whereas MacTrak can tell you the device’s actual location.

The integration of Skyhook’s Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) into GadgetTrak’s product is the latest in a long line of software deals engineered by the Boston company; the most recent before this, was an arrangement to put WPS into the Symbian operating system used by millions of cell phones worldwide. “GadgetTrak is an excellent example of location-awareness enhancing the security of our valuable mobile devices,” Kate Imbach, Skyhook’s director of marketing, said in a statement.

For Windows laptops, GadgetTrak makes an application that, like Adeona, tracks stolen laptops to the nearest Internet router. The company also makes “search and destroy” software that can remotely erase sensitive data stored on missing laptops or smartphones.

Update, 12/3/08: In a related customer win for Skyhook, Awareness Technologies of Los Angeles announced today that it has added the Wi-Fi Positioning System to its Laptop Cop software for laptop recovery and remote file deletion.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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