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3 Free Tools for Tracking your Lost Laptop, Smartphone or Tablet

I recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if I lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Take it from me when I say that when you lose a device, your first thoughts turn to ascertaining whether the device has been accidentally lost, or actually stolen.

Fortunately there are a raft of Tracking and Anti-Theft software available – and in many cases, free of charge. The caveat with all of these methods is that they’re dependant upon an active Internet connection being live. If you have a continuous 3G signal – great, you’ll be on-line most places. But if the device is Wi-Fi only then you’re reliant on the device being actually connected to a Wi-Fi signal.

With that in mind, here are the three free tools I’ve installed on my mobile devices to track them in the event of a loss.

Prey Project

Prey Project LogoThe Prey Project is a lightweight, Open Source (i.e. free of charge) application that is available to install on any PC – Laptop, Netbook or Desktop, Apple Mac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Linux or Android device.

The application is quickly downloaded and installed, and using a single e-mail address you can protect up to 3 devices for free. There is also a Pro version available that allows you to protect many more devices and beef up your security further.

In the event that your equipment is lost, you visit the Prey Project Web-Site and through the Control Panel report your device as missing. Over the next twenty minutes, Prey then tries to communicate with the device and send you back a report via e-mail that highlights the devices GPS location, any Wireless networks found nearby and if available, a photograph taken using the devices webcam.

You can also perform actions such as set off an audible alarm on the laptop, display an alert on the devices screen (such as a message with your contact details) or lock the laptop keyboard – only to be unlocked by the password you specify.

When I lost my laptop I was fortunate enough to have Prey Project installed on it, but the laptop was never connected to the Internet so I never received a report. Once I’d got my laptop back though, I watched as within a few minutes of being connected on-line, Prey Project e-mailed me with me GPS location of my laptop (with me at home!) and a screenshot of me in front of the laptop. Prey Project is not fool proof, but you never known when you might need it!

 

Find my iPhone

Find my iPhone LogoThe Find my iPhone service is bundled free with any iPhone or iPad, and for those running iOS5 using iCloud, it’s bundled in.

In short, once installed upon your iPhone or iPad, you can use any other iOS device to find it and protect your data.

You can track your device using GPS to show a Map Location, and you can remotely play a sound or send a message to the device – regardless of whether it is muted or locked.

You can also remotely lock the device, and if you choose, remotely wipe the device protecting your data.

If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad – go and grab the free Find my iPhone app from the App Store now and set it up. It’s very, very useful.

 

Android Lost

Android Lost LogoMuch like Find my iPhone for iOS, Android Lost for Android Smartphones is a free tool that once installed enables you to remotely track your device, lock it, send messages to it, or remotely wipe the data from it.

But Android Lost also allows you to do many other things, such as take a photograph using the forward facing camera, use text to speech to make your phone say a message out loud (“I am lost! Please pick me up!”), notify you when the SIM card is changed, send a list of incoming and outgoing calls from the device via e-mail, forward your calls, erase any attached SD Card, read the phone status (to show Battery life, IMEI, SIM Card ID and more) and send commands via SMS from other mobile phones.

It’s hugely powerful, and as it is free, is an absolute no-brainer for any Android owner to install on their device.

 

Conclusion

In this blog post I’ve just covered PC, Apple Mac, Blackberry, Linux, iOS and Android devices – but as a former Windows Mobile and Windows Phone owner, I know there are similar tools for those platforms.

I’ve got Prey installed on my Laptop, Netbook, Android, iPhone and iPad, as well as Android Lost on my HTC Sensation, and Find my iPhone on my iPhone and iPad. Overkill? Maybe – but the overheads of these tools are so low, that there’s not much downside to installing multiple tracking tools on the same devices.

The key here is to install these apps and tools *before* you need them, because as I’ve already found out, whilst you think it’ll never happen to you – it’s very easy to lose a mobile device!

Tomorrow I’ll be writing about the measures you can take to ensure your precious data is safe in the event of a lost device.

 

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