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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Internet Shaming Redux: The Case of the Stolen Cell Phone

Cellphoneshame2A story from Wired describes the latest Internet shaming episode:

A New York stock clerk who had his camera phone swiped from his car this month says he was able to peer into the life of the gadget's new owner. The thief evidently didn't realize the copious photos and videos he was taking with the hot phone were accessible through a web account. . . .

Because the camera phone can only hold a limited number of images, Sprint lets subscribers upload photos from the device to a web account. "I decided to go and check out the web space and see if there were any pictures uploaded to it, and he had taken almost 40 pictures and five movies and uploaded them all," says Clennan [the theft victim].

Most of the images show the same young man, flexing for the camera in various states of dress, kissing a young woman, posing with apparent friends and family members, and generally having a good time with a new toy.

When Clennan checked the account's e-mail outbox, he found the new owner had forwarded some of the photos to a particular Yahoo e-mail account.

Clennan sent his own message: "Like to steal cell phones and use them to take pics of yourself and make videos.... HA! (G)uess what pal ... (I) have every pic you took and the videos. I will be plastering the town with pics of your face."

The article continues:

Far from chastised, the man fired back a taunting one-line note, apparently with his own name in the header, dropping the name of a woman Clennan had been dating, and who'd sent text messages to the stolen phone.

Clennan retaliated by posting the story and some of the photos to a Long Island web board, where it immediately began gathering the kind of interest that accumulates to photo-driven internet phenomena like the Korean Dog Poop Girl and the New York subway flasher.

Urged on by netizens, Clennan says he finally took the trove of evidence to the Suffolk County, New York, police last week, and they're considering filing petty theft charges in the case. "The detective actually laughed," says Clennan. . . .

Contacted by e-mail, the camera phone's new owner told Wired News he didn't steal the device, but merely found it on a street corner. The young man says he's 16 years old, and Wired News has elected not to report his name.

The case provides another instance of Internet shaming to discuss and debate.   In recent posts, I've been critical of Internet shaming.  One of the problems with this incident is that the facts are still unsettled about how the teenager acquired the camera. 

In this case, the theft victim placed online many pictures of the person -- as well as images of other people who appeared in the pictures.  These pictures were then copied by netizens, morphed into "Wanted" posters, and plastered about the Internet.  I've included an example in this post, but have blocked out the person's face and name, both of which appear in the original version.  I checked the website where the theft victim placed the photos and here's his latest update:


The pictures, however, still float around the Internet.  Despite the theft victim's change of heart, it's too late to take the pictures back. 

Posted by Daniel Solove on August 31, 2005 at 01:44 AM in Daniel Solove, Information and Technology | Permalink


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Posted by: Candace | Nov 9, 2006 5:05:05 PM

I am absolutely sick of hearing people's hearts bleed for criminals, OK, benefit of a doubt to the criminal, so he found it. So what, if I find your wallet, does that give me the right to spend your cash and use your credit cards? What if I'm "only 16", does that make it ok to keep your money and use your credit cards? If the guy was 5, maybe, but then his parents should take the phone from him IMMEDIATELY and go through due process of returning it to it's rightful owner, anything use of the phone is a criminal act. And as such warrants criminal punishment.

Posted by: Kevin | Jul 6, 2006 10:16:22 PM

I recently had a similar incident happen to us. Someone stole one of our cell phones and charged up about $2000 in downloads and fees. Verizon has held us liable for all of these costs and the police department has yet to look into this case. We have 90 days to come up with this money and the person who did this is free to do this again else where. I am disgusted by this person & Verizon and shocked that there is nothing that can be done to help us. We have a statement with the numbers that this person has called & the people that called him.

Posted by: Nikki Neal | Apr 26, 2006 12:59:34 PM

FYI the phone still has not been returned and the thief or foundie never made and offer to do so, this was a $400 phone. The pictures were taken to the cops and I did tell the cops I posted them on the net.

Posted by: John | Sep 2, 2005 11:53:32 AM

I'm with Simon. This seems to me to be a relatively low-cost and generally harmless type of justice. It is much cheaper to society than bringing in the cops.

The person brought this on himself, and likely he'll learn a lesson. Will his mug be out there for the rest of his life? Probably. But if I run into him (or the dog poop girl) on the street, I won't recognize him, and neither will 99.9999% of the population. He has little to fear, but I daresay he's learned a lesson.

You can bet that if someone is driving away in my car--by accident or on purpose--if I can, I will take his or her picture and publish it on the web.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Aug 31, 2005 12:45:17 PM

As with the flasher thing, it seems to me that, were the person blameless, he'd not be having the problem. The flasher did something wrong, and will likely now pay the price of public shame. This guy took someone else's phone - makes no difference whether he found it on the street or took it out of the victim's pocket - and continued to take their property by (presumably) using services that would be billed to the victim. Zero sympathy.

Posted by: Simon | Aug 31, 2005 9:52:34 AM

you'd think he could have just given the damn photos to the cops...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Aug 31, 2005 9:29:34 AM

Incredibily funny. I was taking a break from an all-nighter, and this literally made my night.

Posted by: Mike | Aug 31, 2005 2:34:36 AM

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