Read This: When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: ‘People Staring at Computers’

When New York Media artist Kyle McDonald heard a knock on his door one morning last summer, the last thing he expected  was the team of Secret Service agents confronting him on his doorstep. And yet, here they were, ready to raid his home and confiscate his computers and hard drives. It turned out that McDonald’s recent project “People Staring at Computers” had run afoul of Apple and the  US Code Title 18  SS 1030. McDonald, whose many art projects explore how we interact with technology, had recently completed a project where he secretly installed an app on computers at a nearby Mac Store to record people as they stared into the computer screens at the store.

Read about McDonald’s project, experience with the Secret Service, and the reaction to his work on WIRED: It’s a fascinating chronicle.

What do you think – is what McDonald doing art? Should we worry about the privacy issues? Leave your comments below.

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  1. Wow, what a great story. Not sure how I feel about it yet but I’m sure it will lead to some lively discussions with my artist and non-artists friends. Thanks so much for posting it Jason.

  2. I think McDonald’s work does raise a lot of great questions about how numb we become when we’re “computing.” The privacy issue is interesting also. He wasn’t in a fully public space like a street or park. He was in a place of business. When people go to a public park–or even a private park, like Disney World–they understand that they might wind up in other parkgoers’ photos. But no one who’s shopping expects another shopper to take their photo. And even if a photographer did hang out in a store, there’s a big difference between having your picture taken by a guy with a big ol’ SLR than having your picture taken by a piece of software that you don’t know is running. His photography method was sneaky, and impolite, but not unethical.

    Of course, the thing that got McDonald in trouble wasn’t the photography. It was installing software on computers owned by someone else without their permission. That’s the only part of his work that I found unethical.

  3. I certainly don’t want anyone putting anything on my computer without my knowledge. it’s non of McDonald’s business what I do.

  4. This is not art; this is investigative journalism. He should not be allowed to go into a privately owned store and put an app on their computers. It is invading a persons privacy to photograph them this way. I think what he did was unethical to the people involved. Even candid camera has to tell you before they use your image on television.

  5. Though I do agree with the previous comments in regards to the logistics of doing a project on/in privately owned products/stores and I think this project does disregard some legal questions, I do get the point and I think it’s a remarkable one and one we need to look at with fresh eyes. What if he has permission from Apple to do this project and it was deemed ethical and legal? What is the difference between an individual recording people on video at their computers and companies doing it? I’ve read recently that there are facial recognition systems put on Facebook (or that this is in the works) and Skype, mainly for the purpose of security and to also use people’s facial expressions in order to use advertisements effectively on them (Skype). There are also cameras popping up in some countries on the streets that record people and also are able to have facial recognition software used on them. Definitely this is art, he is asking relevant questions that I think are very important to us. Very cool!

  6. This is not art, it’s surveillance, and an invasion of people’s lives. He should be prosecuted and all the people he spied on should sue him. !! He’s a hacker, not an artist.
    Art is just deteriorating into any stupid thing a person can think up.

  7. Its art if he says it is. It can be all of those other things also but denying an artist to call his work “art” is basically saying that the world can’t evolve or grow to incorporate new ideas. Saying that art is “deteriorating” into any stupid thing someone can think up undermines the idea that all art is or ever has been is ideas and thoughts displayed to the world through one person’s perception.

  8. Rigging someone else’s property to capture images without the subjects’ knowledge is (1) product tampering, (2) a grievous invasion of the unsuspecting victim’s privacy and (3) not much different, in my opinion, than installing a hidden camera on a toilet in a gas station’s restroom.

  9. I can’t paint someones portrait without their consent. Wish I could sometimes. I see some fabulous subjects out there, but I respect their privacy. So should he. If he wants to have images of people glued to their computers, just go into any of his friends homes and get their permission, I’m sure they are glued too! Isn’t everyone anymore? Back to my portrait subjects, if it wasn’t illegal to paint someone without their permission, at least one of my ‘private’ models would be the subject of at least one other artist’s work whom I am aware of. Just another slant on the subject. Double law suit!

  10. Those who approve of Kyle’s work will keep approving. Those who disapprove will keep disapproving. So there is no reason for arguing. He has done what he has done. The only thing we can do is ignore his work if we disapprove or give him attention if we approve. Kyle McDonald is immature, like a child, and he will keep trying different things and behaviors to see what he gets away with and what brings him attention. It is obvious he is not evil. I hope he grows up someday and starts producing more mature artwork.

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