Artist gets Secret Service visit because of Apple store spycam project

people staring 2A project by electronic artist Kyle McDonald gained him a computer fraud investigation and an audience with four U.S. Secret Servicemen in suits this Thursday morning. McDonald had apparently created a program which automatically took pictures of customers shopping at Apple stores in New York, and he did it without anyone knowing. Once Apple found out though, it seems like they weren’t too happy with him.

The project captured people staring into computer screens while shopping at two New York Apple store locations. Three days in June marked the extent of McDonald’s documentation of these people shopping. Each night the 25-year-old had to go back in and reinstall the programs since the stores wiped their computers daily. He then took these photos and uploaded them to a Tumblr blog called People Staring at Computers.

“We have this expression on our face [when we use computers] that basically says that we’re not interacting with anybody, we’re interacting with the machine,” the Brooklyn artist said according to an exclusive with Mashable. “Even if there are a lot of people in the room at the Apple Store, you’re not interacting with them.”

people staring at computers

McDonald eventually set up an exhibition at the Apple stores, and customers saw photos of themselves and others staring back from the computer screens. In the video posted below, the artist says that people hit the “escape” button upon seeing a picture of themselves.

At one point, close to 100 Apple store computers rang McDonald’s servers every minute. All that traffic was eventually traced back to the Tumblr site by an Apple technician in Cupertino—Apple monitors all the traffic in its stores. Subsequently, Secret Service agents paid the artist a visit with a warrant for computer fraud and confiscated two computers as well as flash drives and an iPod.

McDonald protests, claiming that before he began his project he obtained permission from the Apple security guards to take photos inside the store. He also asked customers if he could take photos of them as well, though those customers probably thought by camera. McDonald says that had these people told him no he would have stopped, and said he would take their photos down if any asked. He even refrained from posting the code for his program online to keep it from being used for evil. Is he crook or is he just a gutsy artist?


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