Lastfm stolen computer followup December 12, 2006 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Okay, I posted a few weeks ago about using lastfm to track my stolen computer, and was asked to update when they responded...
posted by thisisnotkatrina to MetaFilter-Related at 5:30 PM (28 comments total)

[moved this inside]
Hey Katrina,

so I finally spoke to the "guy in charge", and his response was that there's no sense in pursuing this, since we don't record timestamps with each IP address.

The thing is, an IP address by itself isn't of any use to you -- you would then need a court order to get the person behind the IP from the respective ISP, and to be able to look that up they need a timestamp (IP addresses get reassigned all the time.)

Apparently we had a number of similar requests some time ago, and one case actually went in front of a court and got rejected because of this...

Sorry that we couldn't help you out,
Martin D.

posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2006


sorry! thank you!
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2006


The original AskMe post.

Thanks for the update. Sorry to hear you won't be getting your laptop back.

I'm thinking it might be useful to create a "phone-home" application for exactly this reason. Whenever your laptop boots up, it would connect to a well-known web server; the web server would record the id, time, and IP address. Then if your laptop was ever stolen, you could connect to the web server and check the logs for your id.
posted by russilwvong at 5:47 PM on December 12, 2006


pasted from my lastfm page:

Recent Tracks
Fourth Estate – Kara Kum - Part 1 - Mirage; 2 - Ten Days Lost in the Sun; 3 - Shadow of the Dune just listened
Fourth Estate – Taste of Heaven 9 minutes ago
Fourth Estate – Dadgad 13 minutes ago
Fourth Estate – Crazy Ivan 21 minutes ago
Fourth Estate – Blue Flame 27 minutes ago
...
...
Spock's Beard – Is this love 12 Dec 2006, 19:27
Spock's Beard – Skeletons at the Feast 12 Dec 2006, 19:22
Spock's Beard – On A Perfect Day 12 Dec 2006, 19:15
Spyro Gyra – Tower of Babel 12 Dec 2006, 17:24
Spyro Gyra – Bright Lights 12 Dec 2006, 17:14
Keb' Mo' – Life Is Beautiful 12 Dec 2006, 15:05
Keb' Mo' – I'll Be Your Water 12 Dec 2006, 15:01
Keb' Mo' – I See Love 12 Dec 2006, 14:57
Keb' Mo' – Whole 'Nutha Thang 12 Dec 2006, 14:53
Keb' Mo' – Suitcase 12 Dec 2006, 14:49

what an interesting thing to say. "we don't record timestamps".
posted by quonsar at 5:50 PM on December 12, 2006


I assume he meant that they don't record an IP address with each track.
posted by russilwvong at 5:52 PM on December 12, 2006


weird. Seems to me lastfm could get an IP if they wanted to, no?
posted by dobbs at 5:57 PM on December 12, 2006


Not weird. It's entirely plausible that this company would prefer not to record this information to protect the privacy of its clients. Not saying that that's what's happening here, but it could be a "you can't subpoena what we don't have" tactic.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 6:32 PM on December 12, 2006


russilwvong there is such a product, PC Phone Home (for Macs too).
posted by mds35 at 6:52 PM on December 12, 2006


weird. Seems to me lastfm could get an IP if they wanted to, no?

Yeah, but that doesn't mean they're going to rewrite their whole webserver to help one person out.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 PM on December 12, 2006


BTW, I was under the assumption that you could setup a system in such a way that wouldn't track IPs. I may be wrong here; anyone (and that's most people here) who has a better understanding of websites, feel free to tell me I'm wrong.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2006


Well, when the client computer is connected to the web server the server "knows" the client's IP address -- but that doesn't mean it creates any record of it. If something's just being done in memory and not written to the hard drive, the information is basically gone once the task is complete.

Sounds like last.fm logs the IP address someplace but not with timestamps.
posted by winston at 8:17 PM on December 12, 2006


It doesn't surprise me they don't have the information. A lot of us library geeks spend a lot of time making sure we can't be asked for the kinds of information we don't want to give to law enforcement. Got to be some business folks nearly as smart as us.
posted by QIbHom at 8:28 PM on December 12, 2006


I'm sorry about the laptop, on the plus side I'm suddenly reminded that I wanted to listen to some Keb Mo.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:46 PM on December 12, 2006


mds35: PCPhoneHome looks interesting; instead of connecting to a web server it just sends an e-mail message. I wonder what happens if the originating computer is behind a router (so it has an IP address like 192.168.1.2).
posted by russilwvong at 9:04 PM on December 12, 2006


The phone home apps only catch the stupid or lazy. Which isn't to say they aren't worth it but they shouldn't be depended upon. Especially for laptops that have the restore disk embedded on the hard drive.
posted by Mitheral at 10:25 PM on December 12, 2006


spyro gyra?

i have smooth jazz. in my pants.
posted by Hat Maui at 1:02 AM on December 13, 2006


russilwvong: I'm not sure, but I know that when I worked at Columbia, the folks at the security office swore by the software and claimed to have recovered many stolen laptops using it. They swore by it so much that they installed it for free on any university-owned computer.
posted by mds35 at 7:10 AM on December 13, 2006


The phone home apps only catch the stupid or lazy.

So, you're saying the majority of thieves are smart and hard working?
posted by IronLizard at 8:46 AM on December 13, 2006


BTW, this software you're speaking of already exists. Comes with a cheap laptop bundle I was selling yesterday (though I think this one also includes a GPS and/or transmitter).
posted by IronLizard at 8:48 AM on December 13, 2006


A super-fancy phone-home application (mac-only). Apparently it works
posted by doublesix at 9:28 AM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]


There's also this thing by Absolute software that they're calling "LoJack for Laptops".
posted by vytae at 12:23 PM on December 13, 2006


Good to know if you ever want to hack last.fm. Assuming you are gullible enough to believe the customer service speak variant of "I can't be arsed"
posted by srboisvert at 1:50 PM on December 13, 2006



There's also this thing by Absolute software that they're calling "LoJack for Laptops".


Ahh, that's what it was called. Much simpler than I thought.
posted by IronLizard at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2006


I asked for the ip address anyways, which I had to contact another user for, but I now have it...and I'm assuming my next step is to give it to the police?
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 3:18 PM on December 13, 2006


I call bullshit on Last.fm's response.

They may not "record timestamps with each IP address" and addresses are probably not recorded with each track in your profile.

However, their response indicates they do have some record of IP addresses tied to an account. They probably at least have the address of the most recent submission. From there it's easy to correlate the time from the last submitted track.

No need to "rewrite their whole webserver to help one person out" – they just need to care enough to look up the data, write an official letter, etc. This would take some staff time so they may be stonewalling to discourage these requests. (It also discourages me from giving them subscription money.)

I could be wrong, but I've been following audioscrobbler/last.fm's development for the last 3+ years and based on what I've seen I'd be very surprised if the data's not there to do this.
posted by D.C. at 3:21 PM on December 13, 2006


Well I have the IP address now, and it's not mine. Only problem is my investigator is on vacation! Weee!
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 4:42 PM on December 13, 2006


Apparently we had a number of similar requests some time ago, and one case actually went in front of a court and got rejected because of this...

They should change their policy. Just because one court case was rejected doesn't mean that it never works. I mentioned it briefly in the question, but here's an example of distributed.net helping someone recover a laptop, from Wired:

At one point, a laptop owned by one of the project's participants was stolen. Fortunately, the thief didn't realize that a program was running in the background on the computer he had swiped. When he connected the machine to the Internet, it reconnected the laptop to the Distributed.net servers, and the organization was able to track down the thief using his IP address.

"Sort of like LoJack for the computer," chuckled McNett.

posted by helios at 7:05 PM on December 13, 2006


thisisnotkatrina: I asked for the ip address anyways, which I had to contact another user for, but I now have it...and I'm assuming my next step is to give it to the police?

Yes. If the investigator assigned to your case is on vacation, is there someone else you can contact?

Here's a web service you can use to look up the IP address and find out which ISP it belongs to.
posted by russilwvong at 9:05 PM on December 13, 2006


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