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Prey for Android is an open-source anti-theft service

Prey anti-theft open-source toolThere are two ways of looking at geolocation and other tracking technologies. There are those that decry the Information Dynasty, that abhor the idea of sharing your location with the godless monstrosities of Facebook and Google -- and then you have the diametric opposite: sharing is good, information is knowledge, knowledge is wisdom, Google is God.

But both schools are missing the point: data is useful. It is simply how you use it that matters. It might not seem apparent as a marketing-bombarded, social media munching consumer, but there is a mid-ground between giving Facebook all or none of your data. The danger with Facebook and other omnipresent Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net corporations is that you never really know how your information will be used: you sign up to chat to your friends, and before you know it, your data is being used by countless other services.

There is a way out, though, if you're looking for that fabled mid-ground -- it's counterintuitive, going against everything we've been taught in the last decade, but it works. You simply have to use services that do just one thing -- no feature creep, bloat, or third-party integrations -- just one thing.

Which brings me onto Prey, an open-source and cross-platform anti-theft tool that lets you track your mobile phone or laptop at all times. It's free to use, there are pro accounts for large companies, and you can even set it up on your own servers if you like.

While Prey works across almost every modern platform (iOS and BlackBerry are the only omissions), I will be focusing on the experience for Android. Every version uses the Web control panel, however -- and the Prey app that runs on your phone or laptop doesn't require much configuration. If you want to secure a laptop or netbook, check out Lee's post!

To start, you need to register on the Prey website. Then grab the Prey app from the Android Market. Log in with your account details, and you'll be greeted with the Settings screen:


To understand the settings, you need to know how Prey for Android works. It's very simple: Prey reads every incoming SMS, and if it contains the activation code ("GO PREY" by default), your phone immediately tries to contact the Prey servers -- your phone is then considered "missing." Disabling Prey is just a matter of sending another SMS ("STOP PREY"), or toggling the "found" button on the Web control panel. The only other option for mobile phones is "SIM replacement detection" -- if your would-be thief tries to change the SIM, Prey can be configured to SMS the phone's new number to your phone.


Now we move onto the more important bit: the (very pretty) Web control panel. Here you can modify how often your stolen (or lost) phone reports back, and what data is reported. You also configure "Action Modules," which as you might have guessed, cause your phone to perform an action. For now you can only make your phone display an obnoxious message ("YOU THIEVING B*STARD"), or ring a very loud police-siren alarm. Presumably there might soon be more Action Modules that do other cool things -- like nuke your address book, take photos of the thief, use a voice synthesizer to produce racial slurs, and so on.


Finally, the whole point of Prey is to produce reports of your stolen phone or laptop. To this end you get a nice Google Map with your phone pin-pointed on it, your phone's current IP address, ... and that's about it. The control panel suggests that you should get "nearby Wi-Fi hotspots," "traceroute," and "active connections" information, but that seems to be missing from my reports. Maybe it doesn't work on the Android version!

Conclusion

To be honest, I don't know how big an issue phone (or laptop) theft is. But maybe it doesn't matter: Prey is so light-weight and so free that you might as well install it on your phone -- you have nothing to lose (hah).

Prey for Android Tech Specs

  • Installed Size -- 400KB
  • Speed/Responsiveness -- Excellent (Android 2.1 @ 600MHz, LG GT540)
  • User Interface -- The Android app doesn't have an interface as such; the Web control panel is nice, though!
  • Configurability & Extensibility -- None really, but you could code your own modules if you like...!
  • License -- Free and open-source with "premium" packages available

Tags: anti-theft, laptop, mobile phone, MobilePhone, open source, OpenSource, prey, security

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