In our post on the Dangers of Vigilantism, we cautioned consumers from tracking down their lost laptops & data devices using GPS-based tracking software due to the dangers of personal harm or of identifying the wrong person. We noted in the post how it can take police investigators up to 45 days to recover a stolen device - this is because police need to follow protocols to gather, and validate, enough evidence that they are targeting the right suspect.
In a recent case in the UK, police acted upon the GPS tracking information on an iPhone and broke into the home of a suspect - damaging his door - only to find that the stolen iPhone was nowhere to be found. Although the tracking on the device had "pinpointed" this location, and officers used this information in good faith, the information was not correct.
Experts agree that GPS tracking alone is not sufficient for tracking down a stolen device. GPS cannot narrow a device down to a single location, particularly in a crowded area, even if it may look like it can.
When recovering stolen devices, it's important that police corroborate GPS data with other digital forensics. In this case, police believed that they had eye witness accounts of a burglar hiding out in the property, so no further forensics were ordered. In most cases, however, police will need to further research any tracking data to validate it - looking into IP addresses, geolocation or other forensic evidence. Specialists are often required to help obtain this information alongside police.
There are many free or low-cost options for tracking lost or stolen devices (laptops, phones or tablets), but most of them rely solely on GPS data. As you can see, this can lead to assumptions of guilt that can be both dangerous and erroneous. When choosing a laptop recovery service, look for one with a proven track record of recovery support that will work with law enforcement professionals to recover stolen devices through the right channels.