Quite a few photography blogs around the web have been mentioning a web app that promises to find your stolen (or lost) camera from a photograph. If this sounds incredulous, then read on because technologically it certainly sounds feasible.
Stolen Camera Finder is a new kind of web application that can “trace” your camera from the EXIF data that is embedded in every photo that is shot with it. EXIF is like a digital fingerprint for every photo and it is specific to each make of camera. It also contains information for geo-location. EXIF is normally hidden and it takes an image editor or the camera itself to reveal it. Stolen Camera Finder works like a search engine, trawling public websites and forums that may have an uploaded photo from the stolen camera. Stolen Camera Finder is an open source project.
How does Stolen Camera Finder work?
Stolen Camera Finder gives you a web interface and a Chrome extension to use. The site requires you to log-in. There are free and couple of paid plans on offer. If you have just lost your camera, you can do a one-time search using the free member service. The free use restricts your EXIF search to serial number of camera, internal serial number, and Image Unique ID. The Pro and Business plans offer a much better range of searchable fields.
Log-in and drag and drop a picture taken with the camera. The photo necessarily has to be a JPEG file and unaltered in a photo editing software.
If you don’t have a photo, you can manually enter the camera’s serial number. As you can see from the screen below, free members are limited to three searchable fields and only one search result is returned.
The one hitch could be that your camera model and make might not be compatible with the web app. You can find the supported models listed here. You can fall back on manually entering the serial number and taking a chance with the site’s registry that has records of stolen camera. This data is also represented on a Google Maps mashup.
Please note that the algorithm in use is nothing like a reverse image search. Stolen Camera Finder reads the EXIF data from the photo and uses that as a search query. Your photos are (according to the web app’s FAQ) not stored.
The Stumbling Blocks
The web app is a search engine. Therefore it depends on an ever growing indexed database to run its results against. It is quite possible that your particular EXIF data may not be in the index. Also, clever users can easily strip a photo of its EXIF data using freely available tools, thus the tracking of the stolen camera easily hits a wall. Stolen Camera Finder cannot scan Facebook photos (today’s great repository of photos) as Facebook strips all EXIF data during an upload.
Also, tracing the photo is no guarantee for recovering the camera. After all, you can’t expect the “thief” to simply amble up and hand it over. But even then, Stolen Camera Finder does hold out a glimmer of hope when all seems to be lost…especially your camera.
What do you think of Stolen Camera Finder? Have you lost or had your camera stolen? Give us a shout.
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