To briefly recap: Best Buy had one HTC Incredible and – after a woman tried to buy it, but discovered she was ineligible for the upgrade – it was mine! The Best Buy Mobile Guy told me it was my “lucky day”. Indeed.
I went to pick it up on my lunch break and Best Buy Mobile Guy (BBMG) was more than happy to give it to me. While he ran through the paperwork and checked information on his point-of-sale we made small talk. He noticed my security badge and where I worked – I have a day job at an online technology retailer – and asked if we were hiring. I wasn’t sure, but I told him I could check and that if he’d forward me his résumé I might even recommend him. I was feeling amiable; after all, I had just secured myself a currently rare phone.
With the paperwork done and insurance added on top it was time to activate the phone. At this point I got a bad feeling about the purchase. See, I’m pretty observant and very little escapes my forensic eye. Whenever you buy expensive electronics – heck, even cheap ones – all of the important or scratch-prone areas are typically covered by some kind of scratch-proof film that you peel away. I didn’t see BBMG do that. So my immediate concern was that this particular HTC Incredible was a used phone. While my gut feelings are usually spot on I wanted this situation to work out so badly that I rationalized the gut feeling away. Perhaps he peeled off the film while I wasn’t looking. Perhaps it was peeled off yesterday when he was selling the phone to the woman. Now that I think about it, even though I really wanted the phone, I wanted my good fortune to be legitimate more. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any good luck.
Nevertheless, I inspected the phone and didn’t notice any blemishes and – minus the missing protective film – I had no reason to doubt that it was a brand new phone. On a side note, I did feel a little put off that BBMG rushed me through the first-time setup. It felt as though he was hiding something and that hurrying through the initial motions of the phone would somehow obfuscate the secret. I chalked it up to him simply being an excited salesman. After all was said and done, I left Best Buy satisfied with my new HTC Incredible. BBMG said he would forward me his résumé as soon as he got back from vacation which he was leaving for the next day.
When I got back to work I spent the rest of the day playing with the phone, setting up e-mail accounts, downloading apps, etc. One of the selling points of the HTC Incredible is its camera. Not only does the feature boast a bevy of image customizations, like ISO, white balance and more, but the camera also offers 8 megapixels and a dual LED flash. Before I had left Best Buy, BBMG took a snap of me to show off the clarity. Even though it doesn’t shoot in 720p, the video recording capabilities are pretty good too. So I started playing around with the camera at work.
I opened up the gallery app to review my snaps. Curiously, there were no demo pictures, which was not necessarily disappointing, but definitely suspicious. I did notice, however, that there was a video already in the gallery. I didn’t remember BBMG recording a video at the store to show me and – from the thumbnail – it definitely wouldn’t have been of the back of an SUV if he had. So, of course, I played it.
It’s a fairly innocuous video. My immediate thought was that BBMG – unable to sell the phone to the woman the previous day – took the phone home to show off to his buddies since the HTC Incredible is backordered everywhere. He wanted to highlight the great video capturing and decided to demonstrate by recording the obvious catalytic converter and/or oil burning problems this vehicle was having. I was disappointed, but it looked like BBMG took care of the phone while he was joyriding with it, because there were no scratches or any visible damage. I decided I’d simply go back to Best Buy the next day and demand a discount for the tomfoolery.
Another feature of the HTC Incredible is an included voice recorder app. I didn’t expect there to be any demos for it, but lo and behold! There were four recordings already in the directory. All four featured someone affecting a stereotypical Hispanic accent, making horrific comments about whatever was within view.
I live a very strange life where reality doesn’t necessarily correlate to life experience. That’s not to say that life doesn’t make sense; it just sometimes speaks through subtext rather than literally. Sometimes understanding life is as simple as taking the time to speak the same language. As such, nothing really surprises me anymore. So when I listened to these recordings it was in a kind of detached, unemotional way. I wasn’t appalled or shocked in the way normal people would be listening to this material. Instead, I was intellectually offended. I understood that this was severely inappropriate material that should never have been left on my phone and knew that my visit to Best Buy the next day would involve a manager.
After scrutinizing the recordings I had a good feeling that BBMG wasn’t the guy affecting the Latino voice, but rather the driver, listening and throwing in his two cents. Still, I couldn’t be sure and if I was going to go back to Best Buy and jeopardize his job I had to be certain – or as close to it as possible. I checked the video again to see if there was any way I could identify BBMG in it. I have to admit that I did feel a little bit of CSI excitement and wished the ubiquitous image enhancing technology existed so that I could make something out in the reflection of the SUV’s paintjob. Alas. Nothing.
I explored the phone’s internal directory to see if there was anything else I could find as evidence. As luck would have it, the phone’s browser functions very much like a desktop browser in that it maintains a cache for visited Web sites. The browser will actually take a snapshot of the site and save the image. When I explored the cache I noticed that there were way too many snapshots for the amount of browsing I had done. I started opening the images and was slowly able to piece together the life of the person who last used the phone.
WARNING: EXPLICIT IMAGES AND LANGUAGE
Ah, Facebook – always a goldmine for personal information. Future politicians beware! You have to know that whatever you write on Facebook is being saved on some server to be preserved until the perfect, most damaging moment comes along to extort you. This little exchange was fairly tame, but it gave me enough information to start with. I assumed it was this Mr. V____ that used the phone last.
My train of thought was still focused on Best Buy. I assumed that BBMG hung out with Mr. V____ and let him use the phone or perhaps Mr. V____ worked in Best Buy Mobile as well and took the phone out himself. Yes, I found it odd that Mr. V____ would use the phone as much as he did in a single day, but it was getting late in the evening and I wasn’t thinking clearly.
The next Facebook image seemed to confirm my suspicions that Mr. V____ was a Best Buy employee, considering the talk about buying a computer. There aren’t very many brick and mortar technology stores anymore. It also proved that Mr. V____ was not only the last user, but apparently the last owner as well. From the timestamps on the files, which I should have looked at first, he had owned the phone since almost the launch of the HTC Incredible at the end of April. So the new theory was that Mr. V____ was a Best Buy employee that bought the phone and then returned it to have his coworker BBMG sell it as a new phone. That sounded like something Best Buy would do.
And then I found the porn. Unfortunately, the revulsion factor is a bit mitigated because the sites were cached before the main videos were loaded, but here are some highlights.
This one appears to feature a video that caters to the geriatric-man-with-teenage-girl fetish.
This one displays a woman regurgitating semen with a stiff penis resting on her cheek.
This one is my favorite; it shows a girl with a dog, suggesting bestiality while the banner at the top reminds visitors to buy their moms flowers for Mother’s Day.
I have zero issues with pornography in general. I do have an issue with discovering someone else’s pornography on something I own. Furthermore, I can imagine that Mr. V____ was operating the phone one-handed while he was cruising this site. You can imagine what he was operating with his other hand and it is unlikely he washed his hand before touching the screen again. This is a phone I’ve held to my face. I seriously wanted to nail Best Buy to the wall, but I had to be sure that Mr. V____ actually worked there.
I looked him up on MySpace and on Facebook, trying to find some kind of evidence that proved he worked at Best Buy. His Facebook profile only offered limited information since we weren’t “friends” and he only maintained a few image galleries on his MySpace profile. I flipped through the images to see if I could spot BBMG among his friends. I couldn’t. I went back to the browser cache and analyzed the files once more.
It truly is amazing what you can find out about someone through their cyber tracks. Apparently, retail doesn’t pay very well.
I found a couple of racing sites as well, which is in accordance with his MySpace albums. Mr. V____ devoted quite a few images to his car.
And then I found this Google search. At first I discounted it as just a meaningless search since you’d think he knew the address of where he worked if he in fact worked at Fry’s. Coupling this information with his Facebook discussion about an anniversary, I combined the two as a Google search and proved that Mr. V____ did work at Fry’s. So in this one respect, Best Buy was off the hook.
However, Best Buy was still very much on the hook for its employee willfully selling me a used phone at full price, knowing full well that the phone was previously owned. Considering the gravity of the offensive material I figured that even Best Buy would recognize the need to resolve this situation to my complete satisfaction, so I went back to my local store the next day and requested a manager.
The lesson here is to always manually wipe your information off any electronics you own before returning or discarding it. One of the images had Mr. V____’s e-mail address and I was able to contact him about why he returned the phone. Apparently his mother had an extra iPhone and he didn’t need the HTC Incredible anymore, so he returned it after two weeks.
Best Buy Mobile Guy never did forward me his résumé.
Stay tuned for Part IV!