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Hidden app helps recover stolen MacBook

Software developer denies incident was merely a viral campaign

Californian police have arrested a 27-year-old man whose possession of stolen a MacBook was exposed by a $15- (about £9) a-year anti-theft app.

Taxi driver Muthanna Aldebashi was charged with felony possession of stolen property, though not with theft, after the Hidden app which was installed on the MacBook took several pictures of him using it and sent them back to the original owner.

Hidden is an anti-theft and tracking app that takes photographs from a MacBook’s camera as well as screenshots at regular intervals when it is remotely activated. The software’s developers also offer ‘theft recovery assistance’ as part of the deal. Packages begin at $15 for a single Mac for one year.

Aldebashi was picked up after interest in the case from the U.S. media, with local police initially uninterested even when presented with evidence of the offences by the MacBook’s rightful owner.

The series of events is described on the This Guy Has My MacBook blog by Joshua Kaufman, an interaction designer from Oakland, California.

“On March 21, 2011, my MacBook was stolen from my apartment in Oakland, CA. I reported the crime to the police and even told them where it was, but they couldn’t help me due to lack of resources. Meanwhile, I’m using the awesome app, Hidden, to capture these photos of this guy who has my MacBook,” writes Kaufman.

The BBC reports that Toby de Havilland of Hidden had denied that it was a viral campaign but conceded that it increased interest in the product.

However, many commenters on the Hidden blog clearly suspect that the incident was carefully orchestrated.

“This better not be social engineering ad by Hidden. An app like this needs credibility,” one wrote.

“Nice! This is a pretty hilarious viral ad,” said another.

“This would be so much more credible if someone posted a link to the police report. Otherwise, it’s just an ad,” wrote a third.

The BBC and ABC both claim to have spoken to Oakland police who confirmed that the case was genuine.