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.
Tags:  Apple, Webcam