A Brooklyn-based artist has caught the attention of the Secret Service after installing software on Apple Store computers that takes Webcam photos every two minutes nd posting those images on the Internet, McDonald took the photos and posted them on a Tumblr blog called People Staring at Computers. Apple Stores wipe their computers each night, so McDonald had to reinstall the program every day for the three days that he gathered the photos and he set up nearly 100 Apple computers to take pictures each minute and send them back to his servers………..
Artist Kyle McDonald installed a program on computers in two New York Apple Store locations that automatically takes a photo every minute. Now his personal computers have been confiscated by the U.S. Secret Service. McDonald’s project was to capture people’s expressions as they stare at computers, a subject he had first explored in a recording he made of his own computer time over two days using the same program. “I thought maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we’re using them,” he says. On three days in June, McDonald’s program documented people staring at computers in Apple stores. Since the stores wiped their computers every night, he had to go back in and reinstall the program each day he took photos. He uploaded a collection of the photos to a Tumblr blog and last Sunday he set up an exhibition at the Apple stores. During the unauthorized event at the Apple stores on West 14th Street and in Soho, when people looked at an Apple store machine, they saw a picture of themselves. Then they saw photos of other 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 25-year-old Brooklyn resident says. “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?’” Over the course of the project, McDonald set up roughly 100 Apple store computers to call his servers every minute. That’s a lot of network traffic and he learned that Apple monitors traffic in its stores when he received a photo from a Cupertino computer of what appeared to be an Apple technician. The technician had apparently traced the traffic to the site McDonald used to upload the program to Apple Store computers and installed it himself. McDonald figured that Apple had decided the program wasn’t a big deal. That was until four Secret Service men in suits woke him up on Thursday morning with a search warrant for computer fraud. They confiscated two computers, an iPod and two flash drives and told McDonald that Apple would contact him separately. McDonald, who has a master’s degree in electronic arts, admits the project might make some people uncomfortable. Before he began, he got permission from Apple’s security guards to take photos in the store, then asked customers if he could take their photos (with a camera). Had they all said no, he says, he wouldn’t have proceeded. He also refrained from putting the code for the photo-taking program online, as he does with most of his projects, because he recognized that the technology behind his art project could be used for less benign purposes. If someone sees themselves in his collection and wants to be removed, he will remove them.
People Staring at Computers from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.