Twitter followers help recover stolen MacBook

A MacBook is apparently stolen, and the owner remembers it has a tracking program. He tweets about the location and alleged thief. Heroics or foolishness follow.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

And they said Twitter was just another useless, self-aggrandizing waste of finger-pressing.

So see what you make of this tale, related by CBC, of a Canadian who says his MacBook was stolen last week in New York.

Sean Power, who happens to be a Web analyst and all round geekish hero, suddenly remembered on Thursday that he had installed Prey tracking software and began to wonder whether he might be able to follow the alleged thief. Then he had another thought: perhaps he could tweet about this situation.

The Ottawa man began like this: "Shit! Twitter, help! Prey just found my stolen (as of three days ago) laptop. Here's the report. I see the guy! http://awe.sm/5J8gE."

His next tweet read: "I have a picture and IP of the guy that has my stolen laptop. What should I do next? http://awe.sm/5J8gI."

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Over the next several hours, Power began to use the Prey software not only to follow the alleged thief, but also to take photographs of him as he logged into a Chase bank account, Gmail, and Skype. Power even posted the alleged thief's name.

Naturally, Power contacted the police, too. In the meantime, though, Power's Twitter followers began to do what Twitter followers do: they followed. No, literally. Some of them began to follow the alleged thief for real--in the real world of New York.

The police, though, wouldn't come out until Power filed a report. So, with his Twitter followers hot on the trail (Power himself was back in Canada), Power begged them not to do anything silly, violent, or untoward. He tweeted: "Retribution is lame. Violence is lame. I'm sure there's a peaceful way of resolving this. That's the only acceptable scenario."

Then, it seems one follower (who was unknown personally to Power) and someone else appeared at the bar where Power knew his MacBook to be.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Power tweeted about the pair: "OK. There are two people currently in place at the bar. @nickreese and a non-twitterer."

One of the pair--@nickreese, who describes himself as a strategic thinker and change maker (don't we all?)--decided that it would be fun to confront the man.

When Power realized that one of his Twitter followers had gone so far as to place himself in potential danger, Power was concerned.

"It was just stress when I realized there were people who literally could have been risking their lives for a stupid piece of plastic," he told CBC.

However unlikely, the operation went smoothly, and @nickreese even persuaded the man to talk to Power on the phone. It must have been an endearing conversation.

Whatever was said, the man apparently gave the MacBook back.

The way @nickreese sees it, he was doing something entirely normal (for a strategic thinker and change maker). For he tweeted: "Thank you for all the kind words. In reality, I just helped out a stranger in need. I hope others would do the same for me. Would you?"

There is the question. The answer: some yes, some no.

Power told CBC he won't be pressing charges. Instead, before disappearing to a farm for the weekend, he tweeted: "I am happily reunited with my laptop. I slept so much last night that I didn't even look inside the bag to see what was in it!"

He also insisted on Twitter that he has no connection to Prey and that this is not some splendid publicity caper.

Say what you will about Twitter, but it does create connections that previously would never have been made--even if it's only to help recover a stupid piece of plastic from Cupertino. And Twitter doesn't seem to hire PR companies to say nasty things about Google, either.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET