The Olinger Group has been featured again in a major industry trade publication, this time for how it handled a challenge encountered during a groundbreaking research project for shopping mall owner General Growth Properties (GGP).
Research Analyst Megan Holstine penned an article about the theft of an iPad being used to collect in-person interviews that has been published in the January 24, 2011 edition of Quirk’s newsletter. While an interviewer was taking a break from surveying shoppers at a mall in Rhode Island, a thief snatched one of the iPads being used for the project.
The tablet device was eventually recovered thanks to Holstine’s tracking skills in New Orleans and dedicated law enforcement officers on the ground in Rhode Island. Holstine explains how the iPad’s remote-access features allowed The Olinger Group to ensure that data already collected was never at risk of theft or misuse. Read the entire article below, or click here to read it in Quirk’s. Or read the article in PDF format.
Give Back that iPad! Researchers Catch a Criminal
Editor’s note: Megan Holstine is a research analyst at The Olinger Group, a New Orleans research company. She can be reached at 504-208-4297 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared in the January 24, 2011, edition of Quirk’s e-newsletter.
Early last year, The Olinger Group decided to undertake a large-scale mall intercept study (134 malls in under three months), knowing it would be an ideal time to use the Apple iPad in a research setting. The day the 3G iPads were released to the public, we put them into use. Purchasing 275 iPads was a huge investment so it was necessary to put precautions in place to protect ourselves and our devices. It’s a good thing we did.
With 89 malls finished – just two weeks before completion – we got the call. A frantic field project manager called in tears, saying that her iPad had been swiped right from her hands while trying to pull up a survey update report. Ironically, the swiped iPad was none other than the very first iPad we purchased: No. 001. While the interviewer was safe and unharmed, she was shaken up by the young thief’s ability to snatch the iPad and sprint straight out of the mall.
First things first, we had her contact the nearest police station to report the theft and stay at the mall to wait for the police to arrive. Typically, this would be it. However, our iPads had remote messaging and GPS-tracking enabled. So this thief was about to be in for a shock.
Immediately, and with most of the office gathered around my computer, I logged onto our MobileMe platform and locked down the iPad by adding a four-digit pass code. After securing the safety of the data already collected, I began to send IM-style messages to the thief. These messages pop up on the iPad even when in sleep mode and are accompanied by a jarringly-loud beeping sound that lasts approximately two minutes. First, I tried the basic messages, “Return to owner, police have been called,” “Return immediately to mall,” etc. Unfortunately, we had no luck. By now, the police had made it to the scene and the iPad was not yet returned.
It was time to take the next step: GPS-tracking the stolen iPad. With the entire office still gathered around my computer, we watched the little blinking dot on the GPS map fleeing the mall and moving swiftly across a few streets toward a large park. A co-worker chimed in that we should try to personalize the messages a bit more. This became easy as the perpetrator (i.e., the blinking blue dot on the GPS) entered the park. “Enjoying your stroll in the park? We are tracking you. Return this iPad to the owner immediately.” The effect was instantaneous and must have caused him to panic with the realization we were in fact tracking him. The little blinking dot suddenly stopped moving!
Taking advantage of its still position – and hoping that this meant it had been dumped – I combined information from the GPS tracking and Google’s Street View map. Once I was fairly certain of the location (a group of bushes, approximately 20-30 feet diagonally-located from the street corner), I called the police officer who had taken on the case of our stolen iPad. He was quite taken aback when I noted that it appeared to be in a group of bushes and wanted to know how I was able to tell that much detail! Nonetheless, he radioed the information to the police offers who were tracking our perp. To aid in the search, I periodically sent messages that would trigger the loud beeping noise.
All of a sudden we saw the iPad moving! Watching the small dot on the go again, it appeared to be nearing a police station. Ecstatic, we were hoping that the iPad had been located and was being transferred to the station. A call to the contact officer confirmed our theory – the iPad was recovered! A local officer had gone through four poison ivy bushes (unfortunately I could not tell that much detail), following the loud beeping noise to retrieve our iPad. We all jumped for joy. Obviously, the iPad had to be properly fingerprinted and dusted to identify the thief. Once the “evidence” was no longer needed, it was shipped back to our home office in New Orleans. Very proudly, we showed the bagged and fingerprinted (CSI dust still visible) iPad around the office.
The moral of the story is that although exciting and somewhat scary, the theft was a way to demonstrate that our security measures worked. In our 134-mall project, 97 different field project managers (on-site at the malls) handled our iPads, and our iPads traveled to 40 different states, 91 different metro areas and 118 cities with all of them returning safe and sound, including the once-stolen one.