All Tech Considered
5:24 pm
Tue May 22, 2012

Stolen Phone Beams Photos To Owner, Who Puts Them On Facebook

Originally published on Tue May 22, 2012 6:06 pm

There are many ways to find a lost or stolen cellphone. You can call the number and see who answers; you can use "Find My Phone" apps that track your phone's GPS. Or, if your camera phone automatically posts photos to your account in "the cloud," you can simply watch your photo feed and look for clues in the strange new images that start popping up. Just be prepared to see anything — like scenes from a cruise ship.

That's what Katy McCaffrey says she's been seeing, after mysterious pictures began appearing in her Photo Stream one month after her iPhone was stolen. McCaffrey says that from the images, she was able to deduce where her phone went — and who its new owner is. She posted a batch of photos from the purloined iPhone on her Facebook page, in an album called "Stolen iPhone Adventures."

As of Tuesday evening, the album had been shared by nearly 500 users. In the page's comments section, McCaffrey gives more details about when her phone went missing:

"It was stolen on board the Disney Wonder cruiseline back in April. His photos are just making it to my photostream," she writes in one comment.

Many of the photos feature a cruise ship employee whose nametag reads "Nelson," enjoying casual off-duty moments. The images seem to have come without captions — so McCaffrey wrote her own, forming a narrative about Nelson's friends and co-workers, and even a woman she identifies as his girlfriend.

"This is Nelson. Nelson has my stolen iPhone," reads one caption. Another finds McCaffrey noting, "And here's a beautiful sunset Nelson had time to capture, all on my stolen iPhone."

McCaffrey also writes that she has contacted Disney Cruise Line:

"I have alerted the officials of the Disney Cruiseline and forwarded them the photos. Hopefully I'll get my phone back and maybe some free passes to Disneyland."

We haven't been able to independently verify all the details of McCaffrey's story; both she and Disney have yet to respond to requests for comment. And while her creative photo captions make the album compelling, they don't include any proof that the man named Nelson was involved with her phone's disappearance. As a post over at New York magazine notes, it's possible that the situation might involve at least one misunderstanding.

Still, McCaffrey's story shares many similarities with other reports of lost and stolen devices beaming images back to their rightful owners. Nearly all of those stories involve Apple's "iCloud," a service that automatically syncs photos and other files across mobile devices and computers.

It seems likely that McCaffrey hopes that the "Stolen iPhone" album might help her get her phone back. On her Facebook profile, the photo album is the only one that's widely available to the public. And in the comments, she writes, "I can't see any reason why people shouldn't share this. feel free."

In what seems to have been a similar situation, a British man received an enigmatic batch of photos after his iPad was stolen back in January. The photos' subjects included a smirking man wearing a wool hat, a cutely attentive brown dog, and two hot-pink rolling suitcases.

Around the same time, a Texas man posted images of two women on his Facebook page after his stolen iPad sent him the pictures. He said he hoped that publishing the photos might help him find his tablet — a strategy that seems to mirror that of McCaffrey.

And in March, police found $35 million worth of crystal meth when they arrived at an apartment to investigate a stolen iPad, whose GPS system was alerting its owner to its whereabouts.

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