An unfortunate selfie and an iPhone app helped Winnipeg police track down three teen suspects after a pair of violent robberies on Tuesday.

Police said the first attack happened around 5 p.m. when a young boy asked a 30-year-old man for a cigarette in an Osborne Village alleyway.

When the man refused, the teen attacked and two others joined him.

'I’m pretty sure they didn’t [realize we were tracking them] based on the taking of the picture'- Const. Rob Carver, Winnipeg Police Service

During the robbery, the group snatched the man’s iPhone. Fortunately, he suffered only minor injuries and had a tracking app installed on the device.

When he contacted officers, he showed them data from the app and photos the boys had been taking on the stolen phone since the robbery, including a selfie of one of the teens.

Const. Rob Carver said officers were able to track down the attackers using the data.

“So they took a selfie — a guy takes a picture of himself,” said Carver. “The pictures were automatically posted to [the victim’s] Cloud account.”

A few hours later around 9 p.m., another victim, this one 15 years old, was attacked and robbed near Robson Street and Kernaghan Avenue in Transcona.

Police said the boy had minor injuries as a result of the attack, and officers were able to use the selfie and app data to connect the two robberies.

On Wednesday, police arrested and charged three boys including a 14 year old, 15 year old and 16 year old.

The youngest of the accused has already been released, but the two older boys remain at the Manitoba Youth Centre.

Carver said he is pretty sure the teens didn’t realize they were being tracked by police after the first robbery.

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t based on the taking of the picture,” said Carver, laughing. “A guy takes a picture of himself and doesn't realize that if the phone is set up to do that, the picture populates to your account, which can be shown on other devices."

But Carver added people shouldn’t take matters into their own hands if their phones get stolen. He said while the device helped police track down the suspects, people should always go to police first if they have been victims of crime.

CBC Technology columnist Dan Misener also said phone-tracking apps aren’t for everyone.

“While it can be helpful to recover the device, it also means you’re giving up a certain amount of your privacy and personal information to a third-party company,” said Misener.