A 25 year old digital artist who installed a program that secretly took photographs of the people using the Macs at two New York City Apple Stores has had his own computers confiscated by the United States Secret Service. He may face criminal charges.
Using a program of his own devising, Kyle McDonald visited two Manhattan Apple Stores and, because the Macs there are wiped every night, routinely reinstalled his software over three separate days in June.
The software, which McDonald programmed himself, took pictures of over 1,000 Apple Store customers and then uploaded them to his personal Tumblr log.
McDonald’s art project culminated at an unauthorized event at the West 14th Street and SoHo Apple Stores, where McDonald installed software that guaranteed that when anyone looked at a store Mac, they saw a picture of themselves first, then a slideshow of photos of other customers staring at computers.
According to McDonald, his project was a statement on the way our own selves can become totally obliviated by machines.
“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,” he said. “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?’”
Even so, Apple was not amused, and sent the Secret Service after McDonald for recording people without their acknowledgement. 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 drive; he was then told McDonald that Apple would contact him separately.
McDonald’s doesn’t think he has broken any laws, but his rationale’s pretty sketchy:
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.
So McDonald’s argument is that it was okay for him to install spyware on every Mac at two Manhattan Apple Stores and record customers without their knowledge because an Apple Store employee and a couple of random passers-by said it was okay for him to photograph them. Pretty weak.
Asked what he thought about what had happened, McDonald said: “My main thought is that I’d rather spend my time and money making new work rather than dealing with a computer fraud investigation.”
What an inconvenience for you, to have to deal with such trite concerns as the criminal invasion of other people’s privacy and computer fraud, when there’s art to be done, right, Kyle?