The phone, the thief, his wife and a Chihuahua?
By Sara Ledwith
If you took the photo of a Chihuahua at
www.flickr.com/photos/benvoluto/216323527/, you have caused a Web
The mobile phone used to take that picture was stolen from Web
designer Ben Clemens on an Amtrak commuter train in California in
mid-August, he says.
Days later, thanks to software installed in the phone for Clemens'
use, the Chihuahua picture and other snaps of a woman and children
were automatically posted to Clemens' photo Web site for the world to
"Even the thief doesn't have any privacy, right?" said Clemens by
telephone from his home in Berkeley, California.
His account of the incident, posted on the weblog he keeps up for
friends and family, came to the attention of thousands of people and
in late August ranked as one of the most popular Offbeat News items
this year on "social content" Web site www.digg.com.
While some Web "vigilantes" set out to expose wrongdoers -- or other
users notoriously circulate sensational fake stories to gain exposure
for new products -- Clemens says his discovery of the software's
potential to bust this criminal was an accident and the subsequent
In "Pictures of the family of the person who stole my cell phone
posted to my flickr account," at
http://www.practicalist.com/archives/000183.html, the Yahoo
Inc. employee tells how the software he installed on his phone was set
to automatically upload pictures to http://www.flickr.com, a site where
people post photos for friends, family, or the world to share.
The thief -- or whoever bought the phone from the thief -- appears not
to have known the software keeps running even with a different user or
SIM-card. So their shots were viewed thousands of times by people on the
Despite assertions from the independent makers of the software that
the tale is not a promotional stunt on their part, some Web users --
who may have fallen for so-called "guerrilla marketing" tactics in the
past -- rounded on Clemens, accusing him of making the story up.
"This is totally a viral marketing campaign ... It's a nice
implementation, with just enough flaws to be found out fairly quickly,
but believable enough," says a relatively polite contributor to one of
many strings of comment to the story.
"I've entered into some surreal world," Clemens told Reuters.
"People assume I'm doing it for self-promotion, marketing, a hoax or
something like that. I'm talking to you because I want it to be known
that it's not a hoax. I'm just too ordinary. I'm just too unclever for
He says the experience has been a lesson in the way the modern Web
works: "(On the Web today), you can no longer have a separate --
private and public -- world. It makes you realize you have to be even
more honest and careful."
He has now disabled the software and says he is not seeking justice,
revenge, or even his mobile phone. He would quite like his life back.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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