Find My Phone Short Movie Interview with Anthony van der Meer

Creatives of all different types turn my crank. Screenplay writers. Painters. Hackers. Short producers. Just all kinds of brilliance in this world.

The other day I posted a random post about a fellow who goes by the name of Anthony van der Meer, who orchestrated the stealing of his phone so that he could basically hack the thief’s life? It is a gorgeous little film that raises questions of privacy and security as well as just plain old curiosity. I’ve included the film here again if you happened to miss my previous post:

Well, I reached out to Mr. Anthony to ask if he’d mind my asking a few questions, and he was kind enough to play along! And dang if I don’t wish everyone was this forthcoming with their answers when I interview them. Kudos to you Mr. van der Meer!

Taylor: “Seemed like it was a lot harder to get someone to steal your bag than you realized… is that true? How long did it really take for someone to take it? 5 days of trying? How many hours total? I guess that is good? hahah. I adore Amsterdam. Lovely little city.”

Anthony: “Yes, It took me about for days of trying in Rotterdam and a full day in Amsterdam. Only a really small fraction of the attempts have made it in the film. We tried a lot of different methods. To name a few:

– I walked around with the phone in my back pocket in the city center and shopping center. I also let a girl do it as I tought that may be an easier prey.
– I walked around with the phone in the front pocket of my backpack
– We sad down at a table of a cafe, outside where a lot of people were walking by and had the phone down on a table, so a thief could take it easily.
– I even walked with two crutches, that actaully worked contraproductive as people were making room for me to walk. This is a bigger challenge for a thief as it attracts attention and my personal circle was bigger.

The problem was, I had to follow a lot of rules to make sure i wasn’t a provocation of theft. In the film this isn’t really clear but I always made sure a was within a few meters of the phone and it was always clear it was my phone. So I had to walk back to the bag to pretend to take something out of it or to play with the phone.

I had about 30 hours of footage before the phone finally got stolen. That was a big point as well. We just finished a 10 hour day in Amsterdam, trying to get the phone stolen. All my batteries were dead, including my backup-backup batteries. We didn’t even want the phone to be stolen anymore and just put it back in the backpack, in the front pocket. The zipper of that pocket was actually half zipped, so the phone wasn’t even easy to spot, let alone steal. But it happend. I saw a guy sitting down next to me, and my girlfriend saw him trying to steal the phone. When he was gone, so was my phone so we knew who did it.

Conclusion: Amsterdam is pretty safe, but Rotterdam is even more. Or maybe we just weren’t very lucky. My iPhone did get stolen in Amsterdam and we do have a big problem with pickpockets.

Taylor: “Were you really very worried about back lash to releasing information about this guy? Sometimes society gets more mad about releasing someone’s info (even a thief’s) than about a theft.”

Anthony: “Well, besides theft the bigger point I wanted to make actually is about privacy. I wanted to start a discussion about privacy on smartphones without actually making a film that even mentions the word privacy. I hope people who see the film will realize the risk of getting hacked on smartphones, by hackers and governments. On computers, most people use virus scans, install updates and some people even put tape on their webcams while almost nobody even considers how vulnerable a smartphone is, and what the implications of getting hacked mean. I think the film already created a lot of awareness and started discussions about it.

“So when people complain to me about that, they don’t really get it. I blurred his face and hid all the information that links to the guy. For instance, all the phone numbers you see in the film, miss at least 2 digits and I have shuffeld the numbers. Eve in the final shot you can’t see the number of the house.

“So yeah, I did breach the guys privacy but I did it to show how big the implications to anyone can be and how easy it is to collect this much information.”

Taylor: “In America the man’s religion would have become a very big deal in this story, how did that play out in Europe since releasing the short film?”

Anthony: “Also in the Netherlands there was a bit of discussion about that, but not as explosive compared to the comments when I released the subtitled version. A small part of the film kind of touched the subject of prejudgment. I will clarify it a bit when I answer 4. But the thief could have been anyone. It’s just coincidence. It also doesn’t say anything about the country he is from. There are always idiots who will blame bad behavior on ethnicity. Fortunately the big majority just sees a man as a man and not as race or color.

“The opposite reactions were people claim I made the film to spread hate and Islamophobia are just as bad and actually are quite racist as well. Just because I am a western white guy doesn’t mean I hate Arabic people. But it’s typical for the time we are living in.”

Taylor: “Seems like you became very compassionate towards this guy and his seemingly sad life. Was this the most surprising take away to this project?”

Anthony: “I really wanted to stay neutral when I started the project. But as I collected more and more data about his personal life, I kind of felt part of it.

“I started to feel sorry for the thief because I interpreted all of the data I got in a way which made me feel sorry for him. What if I wanted to see him as a criminal? Or a terrorist? The data would allow me to do that because some of his behavior can be found suspicious. In the end I was actually shocked when I saw the guy in real life. He didn’t look as lonely, sad and old as I thought he looked in the footage I took. Instead he looked pretty fit, smelled like drugs and came very aggressive and suspicious towards me. I saw this man every day, two weeks long so I thought I knew him. I built up a so called para-social band (a one-sided band trough a screen) that fooled me.

“It made me think about how spy agency’s probably have the same problem. That’s kind of a scary thought. For me personally that was one of the biggest surprises.”

Taylor: “I see that you are a film maker, do you have another project that you are currently working on?

Anthony: “Definitely! I’m a freelance director now, the film was made over a year ago and there has been a lot of progress in my career.
I am working on a lot of new projects, including a prequel (what happened to my iPhone?) and sequel (the full life cycle of a stolen phone) of Find my Phone.

“Most of my projects will involve privacy, hacking and cybercrime but I am also working on a film about education and a script for exciting fiction short film (thriller).”

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Thanks a ton Anthony for taking time out to chat with us here. Your film was fascinating to watch. Really quite interesting to see the technology at play but more so the people. The psychology, the social interplay. It was really quite interesting. Great job on your film I was riveted. Please keep us in the loop on your sequel and the followup movies you make.

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