Brooklyn Artist Hacked Into NYC Apple Store Macs, Recorded Customers Without Their Knowledge

Brooklyn Artist Hacked Into NYC Apple Store Macs, Recorded Customers Without Their Knowledge

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?

Related
  • Brandon M

    -Nelson’s laugh here-

  • Kyle Frenette

    security guards in Apple stores arent even Apple store employees. 3rd party company suuplies them, so asking security guards permission is worthless.

  • LSVideo

    Copy editor please.

    They confiscated two computers, an iPod and two flash drive>S<; >THEY< then told McDonald that Apple would contact him separately.

  • Vladyslav Lissovenko

    what a dumbass, who the hell steals faces ????   O_o

  • xraydelta1

    Art is so stupid these days. Why does it always have to be politicized, so it ascribes to the artist’s half-assed “theory”?

  • AlvinMartinez

    “…criminal invasion of other people’s privacy”

    Not sure if looking at a computer in the Apple Store can be considered private.

  • RichardHenderson

    “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…”

    Except… where’s the violation of privacy exactly… let alone criminal violation of privacy?
    Besides the fact that there’s zero criminal intent here (remember that whole mens rea and actus reus thing you learned about in High School Law class?), you have ZERO expectation of privacy in any area that can be considered public. An Apple Store arguably is such a place.
    If he had permission to photograph from an employee of Apple (does the security guard count? Probably, considering how many tens of thousands of photos there are online of people inside an Apple Store), then all he’s really culpable for is installing software on the computers… which I’m pretty certain falls under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (http://www.law.cornell.edu/usc…… but even that’s arguable, since Apple is giving tacit approval to install apps on their in-store machines by not locking them down and allowing you to install free apps via the Mac App Store.

    My guess? He’ll get pled down to a misdemeanor and get off with a very small fine or a suspended sentence.

    But who knows in this wacky world.

  • Cheryl Kelly

    So do we get to see the pictures? Or do we have to pay to see them? If we have to pay for them, it’s all wrong.

  • Brandon Tadlock

    His point is juvenile. It’s a well known fact and common sense that people are zombies when they stare at computers. Who cares? All he’s really accomplished is embarrassing a lot of people and encouraging paranoia. What a tool.  

  • imajoebob

    If Apple has posted signs that say they use security cameras then this guy is covered.  There is no expectation of any privacy when you enter a place of business with security cameras.  Since Apple openly encourages customers to use their computers AND their WiFi, he stole nothing from them, and he didn’t hack their computers.  

    The only criminal act here may be a false claim by Apple.  There’s not even a civil action here.  Except McDonald’s against the NYPD and, if they pressed charges, Apple.

  • Mark Taylor

    nothing more than a asshole.

  • Howie Isaacks

    Clearly, this guy is a total moron and an asshole as Mark Taylor points out.  His description of how we look when we are using a computer is idiotic.  How else are we supposed to look and what in the hell is so wrong with the expression of concentration that enters our faces?  This guy may be a talented programmer since he was able to create an app that takes all of these pictures, but he’s an idiot otherwise.  Of course this is illegal!  The computers in the Apple store are not his property, and he did not have PRIOR consent from the other customers to post their photos online, let alone take them without their knowledge.

  • facebook-602274890

    Good, fry the little twit.

  • Frank Lowney

    The rationale sounds rather Google-esque: it’s easier to get forgiveness than to get permission.  In the US, you have to be out on public streets to be considered fair game for image grabbing but in France, not even that is permitted.  Just ask Google.  They learned that the hard way.

  • prof_peabody

    ” …sent the Secret Service after McDonald for recording people without their acknowledgement. ” 

    This is not actually illegal.  He’s taking pictures of people in a public place.  They are just using the word “record” to make it sound like it’s some kind of surveillance or wiretapping that he is doing.  He’s not.  

    He’s taking pictures of people in a public place.  

    The only thing illegal was messing with the computers in the Apple store, and that’s a minor misdemeanour like messing with the clothes on a manikin in a store or something.  No one ever gets charged for stuff like that, let alone have their privacy invaded by the secret service.  

    Perfect example of how the US is a police state.  He’s lost his computers and now has the Secret Service on his back.  He won’t be able to do *anything* for 20 years without the record of this event coming up and screwing his chances at getting jobs, or apartments etc. but he didn’t actually do anything wrong.  

    Yay USA?

  • prof_peabody

    uh, cause that’s what art is about?  (meaning)

    You’re one of those people who thinks it’s about purty pictures or “expressing yourself” aren’t you?  

  • davidk

    Actually he did.  By installing software on Apple’s computers, computers which he did not own and did not have permission to copy, he broke the law.

    And since he was using those computers to take pictures of people who otherwise had the right to assume that no one but MAYBE Apple would be doing so, he did in fact vioalte their expectation of privacy even if they were in a public venue.

    This is not an example of the U.S. being a police state.  When you violate the law there are consequences.  If he had not violated the law, then he wouldn’t have had his computer confiscated as evidence.  Plain and simple.  If the U.S. was truly a police state he’d have been taken away without recourse.  He’s still free, he’s able to avail himself of our justice system and defend himself.

  • Atienne

    an apple store is NOT a public place. The park, is a public place, a street corner is a public place. an apple store is a private place licensed to do business. this is why ANY business has the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.

  • imajoebob

    No, Apple allows full and unfettered access to demonstration models.  This is further reinforced by their nightly “wiping” of all the systems – they EXPECT people to make alterations to the base implementation. Since Apple (presumably) has surveillance equipment installed – and not all of it surreptitious, patrons have ZERO expectation of privacy as they shop.  Also, the proliferation, if not actual encouragement by Apple, of tourist cameras constantly being used in the store is further evidence that there can be no expectation of privacy.

    Seizing someone’s computers without evidence of a crime IS an example of a police state.  Especially since they can simply clone or just seize his drives.  Confiscating equipment that has no bearing on any supposed case is nothing but a punitive action before the fact.  In other words, police state behavior.  And his only recourse is to spend tens of thousands of dollars to try and get back his equipment, without any way to recover those funds, even if the court finds that the government had no right to take it.  (You can’t recover damages unless you can prove it was done with malicious intent. “I was too stupid to know better” is a “legitimate,” and too often used excuse.)

    Goody, goody.  He’s still free.  But the government has stolen his equpment, sullied his reputation, and left him in a legal limbo where he can’t earn a living.  Good thing he doesn’t have anything to fear from the state.

    Those aren’t shackles on your wrists, sir. We gave you bracelets to keep your cuffs clean.

  • CharliK

    Retail stores are NOT public places. They are legally private property. 

    Also he was recording and transmitting the images to another location without prior warning or consent. So yes he was violating surveillance and wiretapping laws. 

  • CharliK

    They allow tourists to take pics of the store and each other. A Papazzi taking pics would be told to stop, as would some creep stalking women or kids. 

    And there is evidence of a crime. Rather like that idiot blogger from Gizmodo boasting to the world that he bought a prototype, this ‘artist’ confessed via his website how he got the photos. That’s all the evidence needed to get a warrant for his stuff. 

    And “I was too stupid to consider there might be a legal issue with this and do my due diligence” will likely not get him off. He’ll end up at least with some probation etc. And likely a restraining order keeping him out of all Apple Stores until hell freezes over and Jobs sells the company to Microsoft

  • CharliK

    Not at all. The signs would cover Apple’s use of the cameras. Not everyone’s. 

    And this isn’t is about theft. It’s about illegal recording etc. The guy’s actions violated wiretapping laws. It wasn’t hard for anyone to find out what he did when he bragged about it on his site. Giving the Secret Service all they needed to take his stuff. With or without Apple’s involvement. 

    Apple and the NYPD were not involved in this. So there’s no false claims, etc. 

  • CharliK

    Not at all. The signs would cover Apple’s use of the cameras. Not everyone’s. 

    And this isn’t is about theft. It’s about illegal recording etc. The guy’s actions violated wiretapping laws. It wasn’t hard for anyone to find out what he did when he bragged about it on his site. Giving the Secret Service all they needed to take his stuff. With or without Apple’s involvement. 

    Apple and the NYPD were not involved in this. So there’s no false claims, etc. 

  • CharliK

    No one said he did. The Secret Service went after him because of wiretapping laws against photographing or recording someone’s voice or image without their permission or a warrant. 

  • CharliK

    Also it is unlikely that he explained exactly what he was doing. So long as someone isn’t clearly taking pics of the security cameras and such, they will let tourist take pics of each other etc. THAT is likely what the guard thought he meant and said yes under that assumption

  • CharliK

    Not to mention all the folks that saw themselves in those photos. He’s likely to get hit with some lawsuits by them. Especially if he is charge with illegal wiretapping

  • imajoebob

    It’s not a crime to take pictures of people in a (quasi) public setting where they already know their picture is being taken.  Add to that the ubiquity of surveillance cameras in Apple stores (at least the ones I’ve been in) and that expectation is further reinforced.  Finally, standing in front of a machine that has a visible camera lens AND a sign that lists it as a specification is ANOTHER reason it’s not unreasonable to expect your picture may be taken.

    There is no limit of activity allowed on Apple Store demonstration equipment.  You are free to use them as you like, within the bounds of public decency.  So he didn’t break any law in setting up and executing his program.  He could have played it “cute” and just claimed he did it to test the machines for his project, but was honest explaining it was his project.  Since Apple doesn’t put any additional limits on their WIFi, he didn’t violate the law there either.

    The Secret Service can’t find LulzSec to save the Republic, so they have to harass an artist who did a perfectly legal act by branding him a computer terrorist.

  • Chris

    do you see the green light next to the iSight when such malware takes a photo?

  • Sean Brassman

    Most art is about representation whether it’s pretty or not. 

  • CharliK

    Please send your law degree back to the “for $19.99″ website you ordered it from. Because you are so very wrong. In so many ways. Starting with your claim that because there’s a camera it means folks should expect their photo to be taken and moving right through to the whole “perfectly legal act” comment. Because no it wasn’t legal at all. And they didn’t brand him anything. He did it to himself with his actions and his admissions

  • CharliK

    What he did falls into the realm of wiretapping and surveillance without consent or warrant. Thus it is illegal. AND the Computer Abuse Act issue. 

    He walked into the store with a regular camera like a tourist and asked his question without explaining that he meant by putting software on the computers etc. These stores are tourist spots and so long as you are taking pics of yourself and companions not the marketing, the security system etc yes they allow it. They are in fact the only stores that do. 

    And Apple does NOT allow you do to just anything on the computers. They block syncing you devices, getting into the itunes store and I’m fairly sure also the MAS even if it is something free. And even if they do allow you to get into the MAS that doesn’t equal being allowed to install just anything you want. Same as waving a camera at a guard isn’t the same as being allowed to remotely access the built in cameras

  • Brittp2

    What about the ever present “Apple Floor Folks”???? How did they not observe a regular visitor going from machine to machine with “thumb drive in hand” working the demo machines? Something else  is afoot here. Maybe the apple floor folks need advanced braille classes…. ;-)

  • chromey

    Funny how nobody can ever seem to answer this question. Anywhere.

  • ConceptVBS

    Did it for the lolz

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News, Top stories | Tagged: , , , , , |