The unthinkable happens: Your MacBook is stolen while you're on vacation or on a business trip, and you know that the chances that it will be returned are net to nil. You've resigned yourself to replacing it ( and all your data ). But wait! What if I told you taht you might just receive an e-mail message on your desktop computer that tells you Internet ( IP ) address of the thief or perhaps even the address where he or she is staying?
If this scenario sounds a little like a James Bond movie, you'll be surprised to learn that several tracker applications are available for Mac OS X that will run invisibly on your laptop. A track application can turn your MacBook into a transmitting beacon, broadcasting its current location and all the Internet information it can get to you - allowing you to alert police and apprehend the crook ( who might be in the middle of creating an iPhoto library).
For example, MacTrak from GadgetTrak ( www.gadgettrak.com ) invisibly sends an email to you each time your laptop is connect to the Internet. The e-mail outlines the network environment and physical location of your MacBook, using WiFi positioning. ( Heck your MacBook even takes survveilance photos using its iSight camera and uploads those images to your Flickr account!)
MacTrak costs about $30 per year, which is pocket change for a corporate Road Warrior or design professional who depends on both the laptop and irreplaceable data it contains.
I would also recommend installing tracking software on your computer. Of the various options on the market, I picked MacTrak by GadgetTrak for my replacement computer based on several factors: I liked the company's owner, whom I met at his Macworld booth; I don't like the idea of a third-party company being the mediator between me and the tracking data (as other companies do); and I like the relatively simple and straightforward approach the software takes.
There's a new Mac recovery app available called MacTrak that's different -- it uses the same Skyhook Wireless positioning technology used in the iPhone to accurately determine the location of your Mac within 10-20 meters. If your nice new MacBook Pro is lost or stolen, you simply log into a special web page with your predetermined credentials, and click on one button to start tracking your Mac. Every 30 minutes, MacTrak takes a picture with the iSight camera, then sends detailed information including its latitude and longitude to you via email. At the same time, it uploads that same information in a "Wanted Poster" view to your Flickr account. You can then work with the proper authorities to have your Mac returned to you.
A while later, the first email came into my inbox. The image below has been retouched to hide personal location information, but it provided just about every piece of information a law enforcement officer would need to see who had taken my computer. I should have retouched the photo to get rid of the evidence of a bad hair day, too! The latitude and longitude shown were right in front of my house, and a quick look at Google Maps showed that there would only be a couple of houses that police would need to visit to track down my MacBook Air. Pretty cool.
The software uses the laptop's built-in iSight camera to snap a photo of whoever is using the machine every 30 minutes. If the laptop is connected to the Internet, the software will automatically e-mail these photos to you and post them to your account at the Flickr photo-sharing website (see image below). You can set these images to be private or public-depending on how much help you want catching the thief.
Second, MacTrak uses Wi-Fi-based location-finding technology provided by Boston-based Skyhook Wireless to determine the laptop’s latitude and longitude, usually to within about 20 meters. This information is uploaded to Flickr along with the iSight photos. You can then get help recovering your device by forwarding the information to GadgetTrak or directly to law-enforcement authorities.
Unlike the LoJack for Laptops system, GadgetTrak’s software doesn’t rely on a monitoring center, doesn’t send location information to the company, and doesn’t have backdoor access to the laptop’s operating system—measures the company, on its website, calls “an invasion of privacy.”
I'd love to see the face of a police officer, used to dealing with unrecoverable machines, when you walk in with a picture of the thief, a set of GPS coordinates with a map, and information about the network on which the thief connected.
One company, GadgetTrak, prefers to have the software send that information directly to accounts you control, avoiding the possibility of remote monitoring without your knowledge. The company assists customers in working with the police.