Smile, your face is on the Internet

[Kyle McDonald] is up to a bit of no-good with a little piece of software he wrote. He’s been installing it on public computers all over New York City. It uses the webcam found in pretty much every new computer out there to detect when a face is in frame, then takes a picture and uploads it to the Internet.

We’ve embedded a video after the break that describes the process. From [Kyle’s] comments about the video it seems that he asked a security guard at the Apple store if it was okay to take pictures and he encouraged it. We guess it could be worse, if this were a key logger you’d be sorry for checking your email (or, god forbid, banking) on a public machine. Instead of being malicious, [Kyle] took a string of the images, adjusted them so that the faces were all aligned and the same size, and then rolled them into the latter half of his video.

[vimeo w=470]

98 thoughts on “Smile, your face is on the Internet

  1. A savvy user may see the camera light and realize it is on, but I don’t know many savvy mac users, let alone a savvy iSheep in a mac store. They should do this in more mac stores and post it to “isheepofamerica” or something. :)

  2. I would be very annoyed if my face showed up in those images.

    “we asked a security guard if it’s ok to take photos, and he encouraged us. does that count? :)” – Kyle

    Ambiguous question to the wrong person.

  3. I wasn’t commenting on the legality of the situation, and I apologise if I gave that impression. I don’t live in the US and don’t know the laws there. Hell, it would probably be considered legal over here as well.

    I do still stand by my original opinion of the man. I personally feel there’s a big difference between taking a picture of a store, which just happens to have my face in it, and taking a picture of my face, which just happens to be in a store.
    Then there’s the difference between a photographer publicly taking pictures, giving me advance warning to walk around the place or hide my face if I were to chose to do so, and covertly using a camera that could not reasonably be assumed to be taking pictures of me.

    Really, all he had to do to make this perfectly acceptable both legally (on which I’m not qualified to comment) and morally was to present the user with a preview of the picture that was taken, an explanation of his project and an ‘I accept’ or ‘I decline’ button. That way it would be obvious, fun, attract more (good) attention and give the exact same results needed for his art project.

  4. Even if taking photos/videos of someone in a public place is legal, what you do with it may not be.

    If Kyle had asked the store manager or Apple HQ for permission they would have recognized the potential liability and the answer would have been NO. And I’m sure Kyle knows that. So instead, he intentionally posed a vague question to a clueless security guard.

    Kyle is one of those egocentric artists who speaks in such nonsense phrases as “auditory implications of sound representation”, “the generative mutability of writing”, “creating strong visual patterns and playful juxtapositions”, “democratizing realtime 3D scanning”, etc. All quotes taken from his main page, and all to make his so-called work sound more important than it really is.

    I hope he does get sued.

  5. i do have an expectation of some privacy even in public places and i also think it is reasonable.

    i also have an expectation of decent behavior, respect for others, their privacy, and their autonomy. which should neither be invaded by a corporate judge nor by an attention seeking egomaniac.

  6. Hah, they’re going to nail him for exceeding his access by installing software without permission, not violating privacy.

    When’s the secret service going to start doing the same to the crapware makers?


    This dude did nothing wrong. I like the experiment.




    HE GOT PERMISSION TO DO IT AS THEY ARE OWNED BY THE STORE for display and to never be sold until some one KNOWINGLY buys it at a discount!!!


  8. @t&p
    I normally stand for photographer’s rights, but this one crossed the line.

    It’s legal to take the photographs, but illegal to publish them.

    Not a matter of selling, or ownership, just a manner of publishing.

  9. A lot of flaming going on!! Bottom line, (and any photographer can tell you this) You can take a picture in any public place, but to use it, publish it, sell it, or make it part of an oh-so-trendy “exhibition” you need a Model Release Form. It’s been the common law for ages, and even photography students know enough to carry them around. It’s the only way to be safe from endless lawsuits.
    Guys a Tool, if you ask me

  10. @ M4CGYV3R – nothing to do with privacy. I even mentioned computer misuse laws.

    @ t&p – he didn’t own the computers either, and he didn’t get permission from the owners.

  11. Maybe I’m weird about this, but I don’t understand why people care about their picture being taken. It’s your face. Anyone can see it walking down the street, so why does it matter if someone looks at it through technology? What bad thing could that possibly lead to?

  12. From one artist to another:

    Oh Kyle! so eager to connect so many different media together. so in a rush to impress everyone with your knowledge of electronics. the rush… gives you a feeling of omnipotence. people are pawns, security guards are dumb, apple is a faceless naive cooperation.

    how could you not listen to the voices of our generation that tell us NYC is still terrified to death under the friendly veneer. How could you forget that the same gods that put you into this capitalistic world can take you out so easily?

    Your imitation of the capitalist state’s security is read as a mockery and so you invited their spite. they don’t believe in the world but it doesn’t hurt them to hurt you.

    And why brag about it all? for another brick in your resume wall? ouch.

  13. As it’s said art is in the eye of the beholder, even if it’s legal, I don’t see the art. I didn’t know upskirt fare was protected in some States. Then again if many or just even one could say that’s Alice from an upskirt shot, Would Alice still have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

    I hereby declare I retain ownership, and all rights to my image. Anyone caught capturing my image and or reproducing that image my any means without prior permission will be seen in civil court. Good luck in proving that the person you took a random snapshot of isn’t D_

  14. @Bishop “It’s legal to take the photographs, but illegal to publish them.”

    It varies tremendously by location, but generally you can take any picture you like in a public setting. However, you can normally only profit from pictures of identifiable* individuals if you have the permission of the subject of the picture*. And profit is vaguely defined. Using it in an advert is not allowed, neither is using it in a professional portfolio that you use to solicit more work. It gets vague around using pictures on blogs, since there haven’t been many legal cases to set the rules. But if money changes hands because of an image, it’s a good bet that a court would rule against the photographer.

    But the blog doesn’t have adverts, doesn’t look like he got paid for it. I would hate to see major criminal cases take up the Secret Service’s time over what should be civil cases. Now if he didn’t get permission to install it on the Apple store computers, that does sound like 18 U.S.C. §1030. Subsections a2C; a4; a5A, B or C; or 7; apparently could all apply if Apple didn’t approve.

    *identifiable to third parties. Could someone else look at the picture and the person, and say ‘yeah, that’s them.’ Blurs in the background are different.

    *Newsworthy photographs don’t apply. Somehow the comings-and-goings of celebrities got declared ‘newsworthy’ decades ago. Something about how they were obviously newsworthy since the papers were already printing them, if I remember right. And there are lots of other ‘fair use’ exceptions too.

  15. The MSNBC article states that the secret service charged him with computer fraud. They don’t care about copyright or privacy issues, just the fact that he could use the computers to take pictures scares them. But I don’t see how this could be fraud, he would have to be stealing something or taking money from someone for it to be fraud.

  16. @Bne

    I don’t think anyone here is against the technical feat of this, but if I invent a robot that goes around jabbing people with hypodermic needles and call it “art” I would fully expect to get in legal trouble and beat up to boot. Doesn’t diminish at all from the engineering of the robot chassis, the target detection and tracking algorithms, and the reuse of scavenged needles from the HIV clinic. All those are wonderful. But I used it to do a bad thing and therefore SHOULD be punished and shunned.

    If I walk into a store, I DEFINITELY have an expectation of privacy whether a judge thinks so or not. Everyone I know would have at least the same expectation, so to say that an average person knows about and is ok with the level of privacy invasion that happens every day is absurd. Most people don’t even realize that the supermarkets track your purchases and sell that information to data mining companies. Moreover, if I am looking at a camera/webcam/etc. I have a default assumption that it is not taking my picture unless I actually see my image displayed on a screen somewhere. A little LED light I lit up? Why would I think that means it is recording? I have not read the user manual for every single piece of electronic equipment on the planet, especially one I haven’t bought yet! For all I know it is the power LED, and I am one of the more computer literate folks. I like the suggestion of showing the user their picture and asking their permission to use it. Simple, honest, gets the job done.

    Calling it “art” does not make everything magically ok.

  17. @Ted, so MSNBC called it computer fraud? I’m guessing that was a journalistic “typo”…
    News agency “talent” are (on the majority) not hired for their computer skills.
    I remember a news show couple years ago that was looking at satellite view on google maps and they said it was live… they even tried to draw a conclusion from the fact that the section of interest had a lower resolution then the rest of the area… “gov’t agency must be restricting our access to the satellite…”

    as far as the apple-store photos go… this guy was clearly not thinking things through. while it would be a cool prank at a school campus or similar, trying it at the Apple store (by installing software on their computers) without express permission (and a security guards permission does not count) is going to upset the wrong end of the Apple giant

  18. Not to mention the US code cited is titled as “Fraud and related activity in connection with computers” his actions probably fall under “related activity” but “FRAUD” gets more attention and draws more views.

  19. @all
    Please give credit where credit is due. I’m the one who brought the fact that the fellow was arrested from MSNBC via a link.

    While the US code is sadly sparse on what he did, the fraud act might apply, if Apple is really that brain dead.

  20. The government violates their own law all of the time then, but read that particular law and you will see that.

    This must be some legitimate busy-bodyness. If this was “corporate driven” – some fat cat somewhere getting pissed off, then the SS would hvae used a SWAT team and more trumped up charges. The use of SWAT teams is to make braindead jurors think “oh, they had to send a SWAT team – the defendant must certainly be a criminal”.

    When they just send agents, then it’s a “normal” case.

    Now, it’s going to be funny watching the feds try to prosecute someone for something they do all of the time. In the end, this could be a false flag to publicy codify what the feds have already done illegally for years.

  21. Interesting but reaching TITLE 18-PART I-CHAPTER 47-§ 1030. The Apple products on demo are open to public use and I have not scene any posting of TOS in an Apple store. Legal Apple would be the the “victim” if this were to be prosecuted. NY state law, from my outdated research, is directed at audio recording more than photography but, that could have changed post 9-11. Wrong from a moral point but unlikely from a legal one.

  22. @GCL
    The MSNBC article doesn’t say he was arrested, and Anon already posted (before you) tweets saying that the secret service had served him with a warrant and taken his laptop.

  23. Taking photo’s of people in public on ‘public’ computers and uploading it into the public domain, this is basically the argument as Google uploading peoples faces on ‘Street View’

  24. If you read the actual text of the act, all offences mentioned within require accessing ‘a protected computer’ for either financial gain, or on behalf of another nation. I can’t see a single clause which this project could be construed as violating.

  25. IMO whether you know it’s state or not, having a camera pointed directly at your face, that you can clearly see, kind of kills any dreams of privacy. Especially considering the large number of cameras that are silently operated, remotely operated, or can be modified to do either or both. Kinda like a stove top: if in doubt, assume that it is on.

    Additionally, the amount of hate directed towards the man is absurd. His actions polite? Probably not, but aside from the actual angle of the picture, he didn’t take a picture amounting to any information that he couldn’t have discovered by simply hanging out in the Apple store. You guys seem like you’d see him burn as though he was skimming Facebook logins.

  26. @Medic
    What if you look at it from Apple’s point of view though?

    Let’s say you own your own store and have hired a security guard. Some guy comes in and asks the security guard if it’s okay to take pictures. He says that it’s okay and then a month later you find out that the guy set up hidden cameras in various locations around your store that have been automatically uploading pictures to his website for public viewing.

    Not just pictures of random stuff either, over a thousand images of customers and staff, on the web.

    Then look at it from the security guard’s point of view: “LOL! =P”

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