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When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide 358

theodp writes "Last July, Slashdot reported on Kyle McDonald, the artist who had the Secret Service raid his home at the behest of Apple, who was miffed with Kyle's surreptitious capture of people's expressions as they stared at computers in Apple Stores. A year later, Wired is running McDonald's first-person account of the preparation for and fallout from his People Staring at Computers project. 'I really wasn't expecting the Secret Service,' McDonald begins. 'Maybe an email, or a phone call from Apple. Instead, my first indication that something was "wrong" was a real-life visit from the organization best known for protecting the President of the United States of America.'"
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When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @11:50AM (#40656041)
    Face it, it's game over for the man on the street. Big brother decides who will do what even if it's not against one of his laws. Anyone at anytime can be pounded on for anything.

    Granted, it's still worth fighting the powers that be but not enough people are going to do it until there is little hope left. Today it would be relatively easy for the people to rise up in comparison of where we will be 10 years from now.

    Oh, and if you think that choosing Mitt or Barak is going to change this or even slow it? Get your head out of your ass.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Sunday July 15, 2012 @11:53AM (#40656065)

    Yep I find it is amazing just how much crap people will put up with before they rise up. And it also makes you wonder about historical revoultions, and current revolutions, and get some insight as to just how bad life can be or could have been in those places. I think that in the case of the "West" it still has a long way to go, and can get much, much worse before people vote with their fists and pitchforks.

  • He was surprised?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EGSonikku ( 519478 ) <> on Sunday July 15, 2012 @11:53AM (#40656073)

    He can call it art, most human beings would call it creepy as hell, and last I checked you aren't supposed to be installing hidden spy equipment on Apple's display units. And what if Apple had sold any of these display units? Then you'd have hidden spy equipment inside people's homes, snapping photos and emailing this guy. Also I doubt he programmed in the stores hours, so you could have them snapping photos of employees before and after business was open when they do have an expectation of privacy.

    So yeah, if you are doing mass installs of spy software, you can expect a knock on your door.

  • Moron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:01PM (#40656135)

    Do you really need a law to know that this is wrong?
    Just because something might be legal, doesn't mean it is right.
    Change out "small Mom & Pop store" for "Apple store" and see how you feel about this guy's art project.
    I don't require a law to say please and thank you, or to know that a business is a business, not a playground for your art project.

  • by hmbcarol ( 937668 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:11PM (#40656207)
    Of course you can use YOUR own personal camera to record people in public. But you have no right to take over and use Apple's display computer cameras and use it to record people and upload to the web. This wasn't art, it was rude. We decry the loss of privacy in this country and yet when it's done for "art" some people are shocked that anybody could be upset.
  • but you are kind of a dick if you transgress against people by taking unauthorized pictures of them with equipment that isn't yours and then using the pictures without their permission

    so i'm not very sympathetic to the stalkerific "artist"

    but i'm sure we'll see a lot of comments here about the violations of the federal government in this situation, completely ignoring the violations committed by this douchebag

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:14PM (#40656237)

    He checked the terms of use and found no restrictions against installing software, spyware or otherwise.

    Try walking into a store and setting up a video camera on a self to watch customers and employees, and see what the store does. At the very least you will get thrown out, if not have the police called on you. Spying is spying, and the people he filmed never game him express permission to film them. Simply calling it "art" does not absolve him from any possible criminal liability.

  • by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:22PM (#40656267)

    1) The Apple Store is not a "public facility" it is private property.

    2) he wasn't using his own equipment, he was installing software on Apple's machines.

    3) Apple doesn't "forbid" you from using your own cameras and recording equipment in their stores to "record what they witness in plain sight", it just frowns on you effectively installing hidden cameras to capture people's images without them knowing.

    Yes, highly "tyrannical" of a private business deciding that installing hidden camera and spyware software on computers owned by them in a place of business owned/rented by them without asking permission (of either Apple or the unsuspecting customers) and trying to handwave it away with a "it's not mentioned that this sort of behaviour is explicitly forbidden therefore it's ok" was something it was not happy about.

    Mmm. I'm sure Apple is quaking in its boots that an Apple hater is thinks their decision to put a stop to a guy secretly recording its customers using its own display computers with spyware is a bad one.

  • by Jeremiah Cornelius ( 137 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:25PM (#40656291) Homepage Journal


    "We're keeping an eye on you, buddy."

    Now, you have to consult with the EFF, before you want to take pictures of people shopping in a mall.

    Way to fucking go, land of Jefferson.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:27PM (#40656297)

    yeah and none of those laws give you the right to install your own equipment or your own spyware inside the facilities infrastructure. you can take pictures with your own equipment on your own person. you cant install random cameras throughout any facility you want to or bug their computers. are you retarded or just stupid ?

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:43PM (#40656385) Homepage

    Indeed. If you're terribly worried about an investigative organization politely knocking on your door, discussing your batshit insane (but nonetheless interesting) 'art' project that when, evaluated from a neutral point of view, contains enough hot button issues to get a dozen companies, agencies and lawyers all excited and you conflate this to the End of Civilization as We Know It, you, yourself, need to spend sometime in reality.

    That, and try to stay away from posts with serious run on sentences.

    Sorry, first cup of coffee time here.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:51PM (#40656427)

    You would be completely wrong. You have an expectation that there are video cameras all throughout the store for security reasons. They will at least capture video, they might even capture audio. You have no expectation of privacy in a place open to the public.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:52PM (#40656435)

    He can call it art, most human beings would call it creepy as hell, and last I checked you aren't supposed to be installing hidden spy equipment on Apple's display units...

    Yeah, you're right. It's so much less creepy when Google drives down every single road in existence in custom-built vans, capturing every damn thing in a 360-degree view to build a feature in maps that we never asked for in the first place.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @12:54PM (#40656453) Journal

    Yeah, the most interesting paragraph was this one:

    But there was one point that really stuck with me. He told me that when you start working at one of the stores, you have to sign an agreement that you won’t talk about it. First you go through training, and you can’t talk about what you did for training. Then you go through an initiation where you follow an experienced employee, and you’re not allowed to talk to any customers. Finally, when you are a full-fledged employee, you are absolutely restricted from representing Apple in any way outside the store. If you post an identifiable comment as an employee, you will be fired immediately.

    That really sounds like some religious cult.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:01PM (#40656491) Homepage

    Isn't this blatant wasting of tax payers money? Clearly secret service was involved because of a) pressured by Apple lobbyists, or b) their buds in Government made it to act for "the good" of their corporate overlords.

    As the TFA points out, the Secret Service performed an investigation. That is, somebody thought something was weird, it got bounced up the chain to a couple of field agents who acted professionally, even displayed a teensy tiny bit of humor ("We're from the FBI, maam, we don't have a sense of humor that we are aware of.") and compassion, spent some time and in the end, decided it wasn't a big deal. Remember, these guys didn't know what goofball artiste was up to. They just got a report of somebody installing what literally amounts to spyware on private computers.

    If somebody did that where I work, you can bet there would be a bunch of people both in uniform and plainclothes wandering about asking pointed questions.

    If anything, this reaffirms my (very limited) faith in the system. Nobody called in the SWAT team. Nobody went to jail. Yes, people were inconvenienced, but that happens every day around rush hour. Money was spent. In retrospect they didn't really need to do that, but that is what is great about hindsight.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:07PM (#40656517)

    This guy was PLAYING Big Brother and using computers which did not BELONG to him.

    The right to control what one OWNS is fundamental to liberty.
    He didn't own the machines he exploited.

    Shit on him and anyone like him be they Big Government or merely some wanker artist.

  • by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:12PM (#40656547)
    You don't need to give express permission to be filmed in public for noncommercial reasons.
  • by Bobakitoo ( 1814374 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:18PM (#40656601)

    At the very least you will get thrown out, if not have the police called on you.

    And that is the only thing they could do, also calling the police is excessive. Ask him to leave with his equipment, everything remaining will be taken to the trash. Unless he refuse to leave or become violent, there is no need to involve the police. Not much bad were done because this was a public space where there is no expectation of privacy anyway. Do something useful, go rage about all the other camera that is filming everyone, everywhere without anyone's consent.

    I don't like being secretly filmed and I don't like his 'art' project, but this is clearly a case of abuse and intimidation, a symptom of police state and yet an other proof that fascism live on in America.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:24PM (#40656645)

    Apple, once offended, could have sent a letter, or a lawyer, a C&D notice, or maybe just shoot for a restraining order against the artist ever entering their stores again.

    So Apple is to investigate why secret software was installed on their computers? Or would they do as any other company and call the authorities and let them deal with it. After the fact, we know he was just an artist but Apple (and more importantly the Secrete Service) couldn't have known that. Why was the Secret Service involved? I suppose this fell under their jurisdiction and not the FBI.

    To draw in the federal government to raid the guy's house? That's pretty extreme. It's so extreme that I wonder if there's more to this story than we're being told. I mean, it makes sense in a jumping-to-conclusions sort of way. The guy installed his own application onto every computer in a store, without management approval. That's malicious activity, and could be construed as a target malware attack.

    You make it sound like Apple championed a raid. I'm pretty sure that the government decided on that course of action without Apple's opinion. Apple reported the issue and the Secret Service took it from there. Also remember at the time, other than the artist, no one at the Secret Service or Apple could be sure of the intent of this malware.

    Apple's supposed to be a computer company, though. would it have really been so hard to look at the program and see what it did? Maybe send the guy a final picture of the manager holding a note reading "We're uninstalling your program; don't ever set foot in here again", and be done with it? They instead chose to go straight to the nuclear option.

    Again Apple is not a computer crimes investigative company. There are specialized companies and agencies for that. And again, they informed the authorities who took it from there. Apple is not responsible for the actions of the authorities.

  • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:28PM (#40656673) Journal

    Naw, Apple isn't quaking in their boots.

    They should be nervous, though, that people are more and more noticing the subtle stench that they emit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:29PM (#40656679)

    Public streets vs private property... Big difference.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:32PM (#40656699)

    A shop is a private establishment.

    No, it is not. Any private property that is open to the public is public space. If you don't like it, lock the door and put a sign that read 'private property, keep out'. Fuck off.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:33PM (#40656701)

    "He checked the terms of use and found no restrictions against installing software, spyware or otherwise."

    I'm sure the terms of use also don't specifically exclude smashing the equipment with a sledgehammer or peeing on it.

    Cars parked in a public parking lot don't have little signs saying "please don't slash tires" or "please don't mod my engine" either. It's implicit when it isn't your property that you aren't supposed to do such things.

    On top of that, the law regarding photographing people in public is pretty clear. It's okay to do so, but you need to seek permission for most types of distribution of those photos. "Art" is not a "get out of jail free" card, and any real artist should know that when it comes to exhibiting their works if the people in them are identifiable.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:40PM (#40656747)

    At least Google is doing it from what is clearly public property, and they make a best-effort attempt to blur faces so that people are not identifiable. Anyone else could do exactly the same and it would be perfectly legal. What this guy was doing was not. At the very least he should be liable for civil damages if anyone in the pictures wanted to sue him for distributing their likeness without permission.

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @01:58PM (#40656867)

    I'd expect Apple to have been fully involved in the case. It would have to have been one of their staff who noticed the guy installing application (or the app itself), one of their legal representatives who passed it to the Secret Service, and once the Secret Service's investigation showed who it was and (roughly) what was going on, they probably got a call asking "Is this one of your guys?" to make sure the Secret Service wasn't about to raid the home of a hired security consultant or the like.

    So you are saying Apple other than handing off the information (and the computers) to the authorities has to be involved with every step? When you report a crime to the police, are you involved with every step of their investigation? The police and Secret Service probably want to do the investigation on their own. The last time someone took something from my car, I didn't tag along with the detective or ask the tech guys if they processed the fingerprints.

    Somewhere along the line, an Apple representative made the decision to screw up this guy's life for a while. That's bad enough to disgust me.

    What kind of nonsense is this? They reported a computer to the authorities. The authorities took it from there. This artist who broke laws has no consequences to his own actions? Just above you said that Apple should have been more involved but then you blame them for actions that they didn't take even though they were not more involved. If someone breaks into my house and steals things; I report it to the police. The police put the thief into jail where he gets stabbed to death, you are saying that I screwed this guy's life?

  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:15PM (#40657323) Journal

    All we have is his insistance he asked for and received permission. Unless you assume that no one would ever lie to protect themselves from legal consequences, his word is untrustworthy.

  • He asked permission and they allowed him to do this. RTFA.

    No, RTFA. He asked if it was okay to take photos in the store. He never asked if it was okay to install software on the machines and have those Apple-owned machines take the photos. And certainly, he never asked about taking photos from every computer of every visitor to the store who used a computer and publishing them online. After all, if he really asked permission, would he have had to hide it:

    I looked around to double check that there were no terms of service I was missing. If there were, and if it said anything about “installing applications”, I would have had to go back home and write an HTML5 or Flash version.


    The app was maybe two megabytes, and took 15 seconds to download. Sometimes I would open another tab and load Flickr or Open Processing so I had an excuse if someone asked why I was comparing every single computer.


    One of them got a little excited and tweeted about the pictures, not realizing the project wasn’t done yet. Fortunately, only a few people noticed, and it didn’t get much attention.


    After the one-minute-exhibition ended, we made a staggered exit from the store and met at the Starbucks up the street.


    If I were wiser, I may have split “People Staring at Computers” in two... The other piece would have been the in-store intervention. I’d use the same photo app, but they’d be uploaded directly to an anonymous photo host instead of my server. I’d replace the screensaver with an app that downloaded and exhibited these photos. Done properly, there would be no one to point fingers at, and people might be able to focus on questions about privacy and surveillance instead of arguing about art and intentionality. I wouldn’t be able to claim authorship of course, but I would be in a position to actually join the discussion and participate in the criticism.

    None of that is the actions or sentiments of someone who "asked permission" for what he was doing. Rather, as he notes, he asked if he could "take photos in the store" and later if he could "shoot video". It's permission creep: a positive response to 'can I take a picture here' doesn't imply 'I can install hidden networked cameras and publish photos of thousands of pictures taken over the course of weeks'.

  • by Admiral Burrito ( 11807 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:47PM (#40657547)

    This guy was PLAYING Big Brother and using computers which did not BELONG to him.

    Yeah, and all those people wandering around Apple stores STEALING processor cycles should all get the same treatment! /sarcasm

    Those machines are obviously there for people to play with, and as far as I know there is nothing saying what they can and can't be used for. Using the webcam to capture images is not necessarily any less legitimate than using the web browser to browse web sites.

    People are bizarrely schizophrenic about being photographed. His program is basicly the same as CCTV. CCTV has been around for ages, recording everone day after day. I'd bet there are even a few CCTV cameras in the Apple stores in question. Nobody cares. It's just easier to ignore it. But when you see your own face staring back at you from some computer screen somewhere, everything changes.

    People are totally in denial about the death of privacy, and they're just itching to shoot the messenger, because there's nothing else that can be done about it at this point.

  • by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:54PM (#40657593) Homepage

    You can take pictures if you want, but to publish them in any way, be it a magazine, website or artistic display, you need to get permission from the individuals in the pictures to do so. It's called a model release and every ethical photographer knows about them.

    It's idiots like this that are screwing around that are causing the erosion of photographer's rights all over the planet.

    We've self-regulated for a long time, but now that arseholes like this are not even looking to see how they should behave, the authorities are starting to get involved.

  • by fredprado ( 2569351 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @03:59PM (#40657633)
    As all Apple customers he has battered wife syndrome...
  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by garote ( 682822 ) on Sunday July 15, 2012 @07:32PM (#40658975) Homepage

    Here's the point: We've all already begun to acknowledge the death of privacy. Most of us know that yes, we stand a chance of being recorded at any time, at any place. That's oooold news, Admiral Burrito. With this knowledge in hand, the point of contention is now, "How well is access to that information controlled?"

    Consider Mr. J. Random Dork, in an Apple store, aggregating thousands of photos of strangers without consent, for his own purposes. He is showing people, by his own conduct, that he is not a very good steward of the information he is collecting. He didn't ask the subjects, he didn't ask the venue, he didn't ask legal counsel, he didn't even ask his peers. In fact he deliberately avoided all those responsible inquiries because he knew his project was objectionable to all of them from the outset. Directing anger at him is not "shooting the messenger". Once you're writing your own code, you've pretty much moved beyond the "messenger" role and into the "perpetrator" role.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"