Why Not GPS for Laptops?

Laptop thieves descend upon wireless cafes / Grab-and-run robbers find pricey computers easy to resell The San Francisco Chronicle had a story out this weekend about a horrible attack a man suffered at an internet cafe when he was stabbed in the chest for his laptop computer.

Certainly with recent news of San Francisco’s upcoming citywide wi-fi initiative we ought to see more and more laptops out and about.

Recently I ranted about a stolen laptop that potentially compromised 196,000 HP employee’s personal financial data. I myself have lost three laptops over the years to theft (and one to a big glass of chardonnay that accidently went tumbling over the keyboard).

So answer me this. They can put GPS in a cell phone. Why not put GPS in your laptop? And why not also put GPS in your car DVD player (I’ve had several break ins with my car at West Oakland BART and as such no longer park there)?

It seems incredible to me that with all of the massive laptop theft that some innovative company wouldn’t come out with GPS for your laptop as a distinguishing factor. Maybe if a few of these criminals got caught wiht stolen laptops and served time then the word would get out that laptops can be tracked back via GPS and you’d have less of people getting stabbed in the chest at internet cafes.

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13 Comments

  1. I think RFID could be perfect for this. Even RFID implanted onto the base of your car. How many people have their car’s stolen, then find it where it is stripped down. You can instantly track it, and it beats Low-jack

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    But I think the problem is that RFID needs to be scanned and unless the computer was scanned you’d never catch the thief.

    I think with GPS as soon as the laptop was stolen you could activate it and track it and lead the cops to it and their might be a possibilty that the thief would still have it. You could then arrest them and give the laptop back. Over time as more and more people were tracked back and arrested it would make laptops less desireable as a target.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have an idea – don’t go to the Misson with a $2000 computer! I am so tired of this concept of the Mission being cool — it’s a fricking crime zone 24/7.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If stories like this keep scared yuppies from hogging tables in mission cafes, I’m all for it. I’d love to have my neighborhood cafes back.

    As for GPS in laptops, there are a few solutions, but I’ve heard good things about this one: http://www.absolute.com/

  5. I thought there was a version of RFID that was “always on”. It would be something similar to the RFID that IBM shows in a commercial (UPS truck driver, almost runs over desk clerk and desk in the middle of the desert).

    Dell could give you your RFID# (or whatever it is), along with all the other information they give you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The IBM commercial is a farce. Most RFIDs will be designed to be scanned and some with their own power supplies. But none would produce a scenario the IBM commercial advertises.

  7. Bryan Socha says:

    We use some HP models at work with finger print scanners, data encryptionon the drives and yes. gps. if you log in without a valid finger print, it uses the internet to report where its at.

    I asked the help desk guys here for more model info and if theres anything special we are adding to it for this.

  8. Stephen Mack says:

    Thomas,

    You’re absolutely right that it’s absurd such sensitive data is saved on laptops.

    The SJ Merc on Monday had an article on this topic:
    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/business/technology/personal_technology/14309304.htm

    They mention a company offering GPS for laptops:

    Lojack (http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/)

    They also describe a service from Beachhead called Lost Data Destruction which lets you remotely destroy data on a stolen laptop:

    http://www.beachheadsolutions.com/lost_data.php

    My personal solution? No data is saved on my laptop. I always save it on the network, which is secured in several ways. If I’m working offline (which I only do rarely), I save whatever I’m working on ASAP.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think most of you are confused about what GPS actually is. GPS devices are not “tracking” devices.
    A GPS on your laptop will not enable it to be “tracked”. GPS devices do not send out a homing signal. They just read the data from the GPS satellites. They transmit nothing! So go ahead, put a GPS in your laptop. You’ll lose that too.
    If your computer could read the GPS data and automatically email you it’s location, then a GPS device would be helpful. Please be aware.

  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous, but isn’t that what the Wherify phone does? If they can fit the technology into a phone, why not a laptop?

  11. Rich says:

    Thomas:

    The problem with GPS is the amount of power that it needs. If I steal your laptop, I am not going to turn the power back on. I am just going to leave it off. You need a system that does not need the laptop to be turned on.

    A recent story on KQED said that most laptop rings is looking for spare parts and not data.

  12. wirehead says:

    I don’t know if GPS is the answer to theft. Too easy to defeat for a portable device. Only works if {time to wrap laptop in sufficent amounts of foil} > {time to have cops deliver smackdown}.

    You can’t treat a car and a laptop with the same threat model. The tools required to dismantle a laptop into saleable parts can be held in one’s pockets. The tools required to do the same with a car require a good sized chop-shop.

    OTOH, there’s no reason why any laptop shouldn’t have GPS included in it for a variety of other reasons. As far as I can see, any device designed as multi-purpose ought to have a tiny camera, GPS, and network connectivity. The problem is that, with the notable exception of built-in Wifi, it’s not one big killer app (not having to bother with any wires to get on the ‘net) but a lot of little moments of extreme usefulness.

  13. Nisa says:

    Using GPS device can easily be defeated by either disabling it in the Device Manager or by totally remove it. And I agree with Anonymous, GPS reads satellite data and not transmit anything. Unless you have a software that can read and do something with the data, it wouldn’t do anything. Besides, GPS signal is not very good indoors, isn’t it?