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What happens to your stolen phone? A Dutch filmmaker spied on a thief to find out

Have you ever wondered what happens to a stolen phone? Perhaps you’ve been the victim of a phone theft, or know someone that has, and have activated a remote wipe feature. What if, through the use of some clever spy software, you could keep track of the device even after this point, and potentially discover the thief’s identity and whereabouts? If that’s ever crossed your mind, watch filmmaker Anthony van der Meer’s short film Find My Phone, right now.

After van der Meer’s phone gets stolen, leaving the thief with access to all his personal data, he’s prompted to set up a complex scheme where he allows a second phone to get stolen. This time, the device has a secret app that won’t be deleted if the device is wiped, allowing van der Meer to track the phone’s location, access files, take pictures, and even record audio. It gives him unique access to the life of the person who stole the phone.

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The app used is a modified version of Cerberus, custom installed inside Android itself, so the only way it’s removed is by reinstalling or upgrading the operating system. Using an online hub and text messages, the phone can be remote controlled. The short film also highlights the relative ineffectiveness — in terms of theft prevention — of built-in systems such as Find My iPhone, which can be easily circumvented.

What did we learn? Unsurprisingly, the thief isn’t a very nice person; but what’s really fascinating is the “relationship” van der Meer forms with him. It’s entirely one-sided, because the thief has no idea he’s under surveillance, and evidence of how our brains are happy to fill in details to create a persona that’s to our liking. Here, van der Meer obviously wanted to find some good in the person who stole the phone, even when none really existed.

Watch the 20-minute documentary above, and check out a short five question ask-me-anything post on the YouTube page here, that clears up some of the questions raised by the video. Then, make sure you keep your phone safe, because you never know what may happen to it.