Webcam-based Spyware Used to Generate Art, Secret Service Visit

Webcam-based Spyware Used to Generate Art, Secret Service Visit

Artwork via spyware has caused the Secret Service, after apparently being contacted by Apple, to seize a man's two computers, an iPod and two flash drives. That's what happens when you install what essentially amounts to a spyware program on 100 computers at Apple retail stores.

Kyle McDonald, 25, installed software that took pictures using Apple computer webcams, every minute. It then uploaded the images to his own servers, also every minute. It was intended to document the expressions of people as they stared at the computers' monitors.

Eventually McDonald set up a Tumblr blog with some of the images, and also had an impromptu and unauthorized "exhibition" at Apple stores in Soho and West 14th Street in Manhattan.

He told Mashable,
“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. Even if there are a lot of people in the room at the Apple store, you’re not interacting with them. If something weird happens, you don’t say, ‘Hey, did you see that?’”
Of course, Apple monitors the traffic from its stores (no surprise, right?), and eventually noticed all the uploading from McDonald's program to his servers. Since McDonald eventually received an image of what appeared to be an Apple computer tech, who had apparently installed the program on his own computer, he figured Apple wasn't all that concerned about his program. He was wrong.

He realized he was wrong when four Secret Service agents showed up at his door. They had a search warrant for computer fraud, and as noted, seized two computers and other equipment. They also told McDonald that Apple would contact him separately.

Kyle McDonald says he did it all for the sake of art, and while it sounds like that's indeed the reason behind the experiment, the fact of the matter is that he invaded people's privacy on a large scale.

McDonald said that before he began, he got permission from Apple’s security guards to take photos in the store. Of course, he didn't tell them that taking pictures meant installing software on computers that didn't belong to him.

He also said that he asked customers if he could take their photos (with a camera). He said that he wouldn't have proceeded if they had said no. Once again, however, he didn't stand in the Apple stores and tell each person that their pictures were being taken automatically.

And honestly: this software can be categorized as nothing else than spyware.

Finally, he said that if someone sees themselves in his collection of images and wants to be removed, he will do so. The thing is, that most of these people won't know they have been captured by McDonald (unless they read this article, perhaps).


We definitely don't feel McDonald should go to jail. But did he do something wrong? At the very least, he committed the crime of bad judgment.

Chime in below. We admit it sounds cool, but that doesn't make it right.


People Staring at Computers
from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.
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Ok I agree that it wasn't right for him to take the pictures of those people and upload them to his server without their knowledge.

On the flip side, each person was probably captured on camera 100's of times by the stores/malls security system.

A good ol' slap on the wrist is all he needs, and maybe a stern warning.

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He is probably going to get great exposure from this but people enjoy their privacy. The of course you have those who would argue that it's in a public area so privacy is not guaranteed; however it was in a store that is most likely privately owned. Too many things to take into consideration: Not Guilty, because I have not had breakfast yet.

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If Apple had decent security on the operating system, McDonald would not have been able to install the software. It's ludicrous that OS X is so easy to hack.

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i've read elsewhere that he actually got permission from the individual apple stores to "take pictures" of their customers. the ambiguity probably lead the stores to think a handheld camera - not their own computers.

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Personally. I don't the person should get in too much trouble. Also, It has been up-held by multiple judges that there is NO reasonable expectation to privacy in a public place. You could be at a beach and unknowingly have your pictures taken any time. Your pictures are taken by road cameras, by security cameras. Only thing i think this person should get in trouble with is Unauthorized access to the computer and electronics.

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While I think it does constitute for art. I do think that it's an invasion of privacy due to the fact that these people are unaware that their pictures are being taken every minute. If an application sends back your photo to a person without permission then it's an violation of privacy seeing as how the user does not get to choose whether or not to send the image back. Sure it may be a public place and everybody can see your face but nobody expects for your face to be taken in the camera and sent to the internet, especially the computers Apple has on it's storefront.

The computers in the Apple store to an extent may be seen as library computers and I'm sure he was able to install it without having whatever sort of safeguards Apple has on the system uninstall the program in an hour or so. That doesn't mean we should suddenly restrict access to those computers; It just means we should get a better understanding of what these people are doing on the computers.

Is it worth it to break the law for art; maybe... But if you're dealing with Apple, no freaking way.

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All I can say is I hate mac's and I think this is hilarious.

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I can't imagine Apple is too happy with this. It's a surefire way to tick off customers. Plus, he essentially installed spyware on the demo computers. Given how Apple has marketed a "safer" platform from viruses, etc, I think this is quite ironic!

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Where was the administrator password on their display computers... Art cool but I agree what he did was invade people privacy even if it was in a public space. The thing about security cameras is that they are not then posted on the internet.

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Too bad he got caught. I wouldn't have mind seeing a mosaic of all the pictures he took.

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LOL thats like a nice prank to do :D To bad this went to a large scale as this. Hopefully he isn't in trouble or at least not too much trouble as i think he will be in some sort.

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Inspector:
Hopefully he isn't in trouble or at least not too much trouble as i think he will be in some sort.

Apple will sue him and demand that he shoot his dog or they'll take everything he owns. They'll ask for pictures every minute,........

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