Tumblr Can Now Fight Crime

With the help of an app, a blog, lots of media coverage, a man recovers his stolen laptop

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Just when you thought that every hipster's favorite website could do it all, a Tumblr blog launched a worldwide manhunt for a laptop thief less than 24 hours ago. Police recovered the laptop and arrested the suspected thief earlier this afternoon. This, on top of that Urban-Outfitters-rips-off-artists scandal last week? Social media's power has become utterly unstoppable in the face of villains everywhere!

Yesterday, Joshua Kaufman started a new Tumblr blog with a helpful URL (thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com) and asked the world to help him recover his stolen computer. Using an anti-theft program called Hidden, Kaufman had photographed the thief using the MacBook's webcam and throughout the day uploaded photos of a shady-looking man, just like the one above. The link to Kaufman's blog went viral yesterday--perhaps in part due to Kaufman's nearly 6,000 followers on Twitter and connections with the San Francisco tech community. (He's an interaction designer for an email marketing firm.)

This was not, however, Kaufman's first attempt at using the Internet to get his laptop back. Evidently the machine had been stolen back in April, and using Flickr and the tracking software caught the attention of the Oakland Police Department. The Tumblr flare-up yesterday was just the latest in a Kaufman's much-tweeted-about saga to recover his lost property.

Which leads us to a hypothesis put forth almost immediately after the Tumblr went up. Could this whole fiasco and its breakaway success be another ingenius viral marketing ploy? One of the top comments on Kaufman's first Tumblr post makes this suggestion and a few minutes of Googling reveals that Kaufman earned his degree in London, where Hidden is based. Could he be helping out a friend's start-up with a lot of free internet chatter about their product? It certainly can't be bad press for Kaufman's current employer who offer "one-to-one marketing solutions." But maybe the world--laptop-thieving villains, superhero blog technology, creepy spying computer software and all, plus don't forget the precedent-setting Times Square fake hack for publicity--has just made us cynical.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.