GadgetTrak Blog

GadgetTrak Camera Serial Search: Tracking Lost/Stolen Cameras
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We have launched a new beta project, GadgetTrak Camera Serial Search, a free service that allows people to enter the serial number of their camera and search for images online that were taken by that particular camera.

Every year over 100 million cameras are sold and about 10% of them are high-end cameras purchased by professional photographers and hobbiests alike. We hear a lot of stories regarding theft of these expensive devices and wanted to help.

Many of the images captured are uploaded to social media and photo sharing sites for public view. We found that many of the top camera manufacturers embed the camera’s serial number into the image. This includes Canon, Nikon, Kodak, Pentax and more. We scan online photo sites and extract this serial number using a specialized distributed computing engine that we have built. This service can assist in the recovery of stolen cameras, as well as copyright issues, and we are working with law enforcement agencies to see how it can be used to solve other serious crimes like child pornography.

From our initial tests the new service will work with Twitter’s new photo sharing tools announced today allowing us to extract the serial numbers from images as they are uploaded and made public.

Many Hands Make Light Work: Distributed Computing

One of the challenges of the project is the massive amounts of data to process. Flickr, for example, has over 4 billion photos stored. One server or even a group of servers would not be enough to index images for the data we are seeking, at least not at the pace required to make it useful. We’ve partnered with another Portland company, CPUsage, who specializes in a novel approach to secure distributed computing, providing end users with rewards for use of their computer’s idle time.

We looked at how other distributed computing projects such as SETI@home and Folding@home function to crunch large datasets. We built a search engine spider that is distributed across hundreds of computers that spider photo sharing websites on our behalf, with more systems added daily. Currently we are adding up to 50,000 serial numbers per hour to our database. This approach has proven to be very powerful and allows us to keep up with the massive number of images uploaded to photo sharing sites every day.

New Features

This project is still in beta, but will always be free, and we are interested in hearing feedback. We plan to add additional features once more data is available including an easy utility to find your camera’s serial number, as well as the ability to register a device’s serial number, so that you can be notified if an image is discovered by our distributed search spider.

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