Twitter posse helps Ottawa man recover laptop

An Ottawa man who tracked his stolen laptop to a New York City bar became a Twitter sensation Thursday night after followers on the social networking site went to the location and confronted the man using the computer.

An Ottawa man who tracked his stolen laptop to a bar in New York City became a Twitter sensation Thursday night after some of his followers on the social networking website went to the location and confronted the man allegedly using the computer.

Sean Power said his MacBook was stolen three days ago in New York.

At first, he forgot that he had installed a free tracking program called Prey six months ago. But when remembered about the software a couple days later, he set about to track his computer down.

Power began chronicling his efforts on Twitter on Thursday night, and started using Prey's capabilities to gather information on the man who was in possession of his computer, including a picture taken with the computer's built-in camera.

"Not only did I have his face, but I also had a screen shot of what the person was doing. So over the next hour and a half I had him logging into his Skype account, logging into his Gmail," Power told CBC News. 

"I even had his bank account with the total amount of money that he had.... I guess he just didn't realize that this was happening."

The story in Tweets

A Twitter follower of Power's Thursday night drama compiled a narrative of tweets here.

Power tweeted that he had called police but said they told him they wouldn't pursue the case unless he filled out an incident report.

Before long, dozens of people began tweeting suggested courses of action, and two people in Manhattan who read the tweets went to the bar to monitor the suspected thief.

"I am sure we can virtually arrange a geek squad intervention to go reclaim your gear. You need help rounding up a posse?" tweeted one responder.

"Don't play macho hero," another person following the situation tweeted back. "Be a smart hero — do what you do best, capture data, measure, assess and report."

Power said he objected repeatedly to the proposals to confront the man who had his laptop.

"I completely disavow that kind of action in this kind of scenario. It's super, super dangerous, and I feel like it's almost needless," he said. "It's just a piece of plastic."

But despite his warnings, the Good Samaritans eventually confronted the man and even put him on the phone with Power. Stunned at the circumstances, the man gave the laptop back.

It's unclear how the man came into possession of it. But Power said he is not interested in pressing charges, and only wanted his computer returned.

Stressful moments

Power said the chain of events was an emotional roller-coaster that he worried had spun dangerously out of control.

"There was a tiny little bit of anger," he said, "then it was, 'Let's just find a peaceful solution to this.'

"But then it was just stress when I realized there were people who literally could have been risking their lives for a stupid piece of plastic."

Power, an author and consultant who monitors websites and web operations, insists the incident was not a hoax or an example of product placement, and said he has no affiliation with any product he used or tweeted about.

"This is not a marketing campaign," he said.

Power said he was en route to New York on Friday to get his laptop back and meet — and buy drinks for — the impromptu posse of people who recovered it for him.


  • The "don't play macho hero" line was tweeted by one of Sean Power's Twitter followers, and not Power himself as originally reported.
    May 13, 2011 1:31 PM ET

With files from the CBC's Giacomo Panico