The police investigation, however, was going nowhere. One detective told Kaufman the cops were simply too busy to deal with his case.
On April 25, Kaufman gave the OPD additional evidence that he had collected via the Hidden software. (Hidden requires that users file a police report and supply evidence to police themselves). Still, no progress. He later sent two e-mail queries to the investigator on the case, asking if there was any progress. Crickets.
On May 27, a frustrated but undaunted Kaufman created a Tumblr blog, "This Guy Has My MacBook," designed to prod the police into action. It featured photos and screen activity of the aforementioned Scruffy Guy, including a shot of someone deleting Kaufman's MacBook user account.
"The Tumblr blog didn't receive much attention until I tweeted about it on the morning of Tuesday, May 31. Within a few hours, it was tweeted and liked thousands of times," Kaufman wrote on his blog.
What happened next speaks to the viral power of social networks—and their ability to thoroughly embarrass public officials.
That same afternoon, Kaufman received a call from an Oakland police officer, who said that she had been contacted by ABC's Good Morning America about Kaufman's case. The OPD would follow up on the investigation immediately, she said.
Within hours, police had arrested the guy with the laptop: a 27-year-old limo driver from the adjacent city of Berkeley. They had used evidence that Kaufman had collected with Hidden, including the limo driver's Gmail address, which pointed to his employer.
"The officers recovered the stolen MacBook that evening from the limo driver's home, and returned it to its rightful owner the next day.
Kaufman doesn't think that the limo driver stole his laptop, but rather that he bought it cheap off the street. The case is still under investigation.
Kaufman's vigilante quest was successful, but the makers of LoJack security software warn against this brand of do-it-yourself justice.
Laptop theft "is often more than a petty crime, and can lead to encounters with very serious operations and dangerous criminals," says Lyle Singular, Absolute Software's VP of recovery services.
Is Kaufman worried?
"I'm somewhat concerned about my personal safety since starting the blog. It's entirely possible that the man or others representing him may try to harm me, but I'm not going to stop going outside or living my life," writes Kaufman to PCWorld via e-mail.
"All I can do is be vigilant, and look out for myself as much as possible," he adds.
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