David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Smart phone work ends with twist

The alledged thief of an iPhone belonging to Chris Cherry, a student at Victoria University in Wellington. Cherry managed to track down his missing phone using several tracking apps. Photo / Supplied
The alledged thief of an iPhone belonging to Chris Cherry, a student at Victoria University in Wellington. Cherry managed to track down his missing phone using several tracking apps. Photo / Supplied

A man who lost his smartphone managed to track it down by remotely installing software which allowed him to find who was using it.

But Victoria University doctoral student Chris Cherry's sleuthing led to an unpleasant discovery - the alleged thief was someone who worked on campus.

Police have since charged the alleged thief, who continues to work at the university.

For Mr Cherry, there is little doubt about the identity of the culprit as a result of the evidence he gathered which led to the arrest.

The phone was lost about six months ago after he left it on a window ledge in a university toilet. He wrote it off and bought another.

However, when Mr Cherry began uploading applications from a tablet device he accidentally clicked on an icon for his old phone, rather than the new one he had replaced it with.

He found the old phone was still active - and contained content he had not created or used.

He then used software called Plan B - a "find your phone" app that sent five GPS signals to his email address from the campus. Another application called AndroidLost gave the lost phone's serial number and email addresses of the person using it.

From this information, Mr Cherry found a Facebook page and recognised a staff member he spoke to the morning the phone went missing.

He took photographs remotely using the camera at the front of the phone, capturing images of the alleged thief, and also recorded the man speaking.

One evening Mr Cherry was able to grab the entire 350MB contents of the phone, including holiday pictures and other personal information.

He passed the evidence to police and a man was charged with theft.

Mr Cherry complained to the university about the staff member.

Rainsforth Dix, the associate director of campus operations, determined that the staff member "must provide a written apology, pay for a new Sim card and, if you wish to do so, meet with you to allow you to tell him of the impact of his actions".

When Mr Cherry objected, he was told his emailed complaint was not considered a "formal" complaint and would not be until he wrote to Vice-chancellor Professor Pat Walsh.

Mr Cherry said: "The university want to drown me in bureaucracy ... they're seeking to tie me up in some weird, Byzantine process."

The university has refused to comment. The court case is tomorrow.

- NZ Herald

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