Internet Shaming Redux: The Case of the Stolen Cell Phone

cellphoneshame2.jpgThis post was originally published at PrawfsBlawg on August 31, 2005.

A story from Wired describes the latest Internet shaming episode:

A New York stock clerk who had his camera phone swiped from his car this month says he was able to peer into the life of the gadget’s new owner. The thief evidently didn’t realize the copious photos and videos he was taking with the hot phone were accessible through a web account. . . .

Because the camera phone can only hold a limited number of images, Sprint lets subscribers upload photos from the device to a web account. “I decided to go and check out the web space and see if there were any pictures uploaded to it, and he had taken almost 40 pictures and five movies and uploaded them all,” says Clennan [the theft victim].

Most of the images show the same young man, flexing for the camera in various states of dress, kissing a young woman, posing with apparent friends and family members, and generally having a good time with a new toy.

When Clennan checked the account’s e-mail outbox, he found the new owner had forwarded some of the photos to a particular Yahoo e-mail account.

Clennan sent his own message: “Like to steal cell phones and use them to take pics of yourself and make videos…. HA! (G)uess what pal … (I) have every pic you took and the videos. I will be plastering the town with pics of your face.”

The article continues:

Far from chastised, the man fired back a taunting one-line note, apparently with his own name in the header, dropping the name of a woman Clennan had been dating, and who’d sent text messages to the stolen phone.

Clennan retaliated by posting the story and some of the photos to a Long Island web board, where it immediately began gathering the kind of interest that accumulates to photo-driven internet phenomena like the Korean Dog Poop Girl and the New York subway flasher.

Urged on by netizens, Clennan says he finally took the trove of evidence to the Suffolk County, New York, police last week, and they’re considering filing petty theft charges in the case. “The detective actually laughed,” says Clennan. . . .

Contacted by e-mail, the camera phone’s new owner told Wired News he didn’t steal the device, but merely found it on a street corner. The young man says he’s 16 years old, and Wired News has elected not to report his name.

The case provides another instance of Internet shaming to discuss and debate. In recent posts, I’ve been critical of Internet shaming. One of the problems with this incident is that the facts are still unsettled about how the teenager acquired the camera.

In this case, the theft victim placed online many pictures of the person — as well as images of other people who appeared in the pictures. These pictures were then copied by netizens, morphed into “Wanted” posters, and plastered about the Internet. I’ve included an example in this post, but have blocked out the person’s face and name, both of which appear in the original version. I checked the website where the theft victim placed the photos and here’s his latest update:

[EDIT]

THE PICTURES HAVE BEEN REMOVED TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY OF MINORS. WHEN I FIRST POSTED THIS STORY I DID NOT REALISE THE PERSONS IN QUESTION ARE MINORS. I ENCOURAGE ALL OTHERS WITH PHOTOS OF THESE PEOPLE TO DELETE THEM FROM THEIR WEBSITES AS WELL. [EDIT]

The pictures, however, still float around the Internet. Despite the theft victim’s change of heart, it’s too late to take the pictures back.

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