The odds of recovering lost or stolen devices is improving. Cameras are the latest entrants in this category. Chances of locating a stolen or lost camera have improved as newer devices combined with online photo-sharing services create a digital foot-print one can follow with the right tools.
Digital cameras are responsible for this trend. Now-a-days, almost every major camera manufacturer embeds the serial number found on a camera’s body into its software as well.
The serial number is then included in the metadata with which every picture taken by the camera is tagged. Such data gets indexed and can be extracted when a photo is uploaded at sites like Flickr. The guys at GadgetTrak did exactly the same – they created a searchable database for cameras using data available from tagged photos: CameraTrace
GadgetTrak has a lot of popular anti-theft applications in it’s portfolio, offering similar programs for laptop, desktop and mobile devices. Few cameras allow installing third-party software, however, and only a relatively small number sport limited forms of Wi-Fi networking. But camera owners can be obsessive about uploading their photos. This provides the missing link. Once a photo is uploaded, whatever embedded data it contains (and the user or service allows to be seen) becomes globally available.
GadgetTrak is not alone in this kind of effort. Programmer Matt Burns launched stolencamerafinder in 2010. All you have to do is drag and drop a photograph taken with the camera onto the website, and it’ll crawl its database for any images that have the same EXIF serial number. Every photograph taken by a camera automatically has its unique manufacturer’s serial number embedded in the EXIF data unless this info is stripped. Stolencamerafinder.com scrapes Flickr photos looking for images that have the same information as yours.
Once a camera’s serial number crops up, you can locate the location of the device (unless the captor is tech savvy and uses hidden proxy services) and explore options to confront the captor or take help of local authorities for the same.
More and more cameras now come with a GPS receiver (or link up to an external one) for inserting geographical coordinates into a picture’s metadata. Flickr strips out or only shows the uploading account holder such information unless a user explicitly permits it. Photos posted in other ways, though, may leak this information more casually. With enough such clues, police could ask a photo service or obtain a warrant to retrieve location data stored in the user’s account.
GadgetTrak also provides anonymous communication to both protect the identity of our customers, as well as provide the finder with a means to disclose information regarding a device without risk.
An additional benefit of our image monitoring service is copyright protection. We are living in a time when it’s easier than ever to share pictures with friends and family as well as client and coworkers. Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever to use other people’s work without their permission or even pass it off as your own.
CameraTrace is a great tool for protecting your copyrights. With links to pages where your photos are displayed, you can quickly see if somebody is misusing your work.
All this is, of course, a double-edged sword. Any information that helps find pilfered goods may also be used to track camera owners’ activities. Tools to delete such data before photos are uploaded to the internet are available. And thieves know it.