September 1, 2006
The phone, the thief, his wife and a Chihuahua?
By Sara Ledwith
LONDON (Reuters) - If you took the photo of a Chihuahua at
www.flickr.com/photos/benvoluto/216323527/, you have caused a
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 see.
"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
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 attention unwanted.
In "Pictures of the family of the person who stole my cell
phone posted to my flickr account," at
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 www.flickr.com, a site
where people post photos for friends, family, or the world to
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 Web.
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
"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 that."
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.