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Privacy, Schmivacy

Monday, July 11, 2011, 18:54 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Keyhole spyingThis short article is disturbing for many reasons.

A New York City “artist,” who installed spyware onto public computers to snap photos of customers in Apple stores was visited by US Secret Service this week.

Kyle McDonald used the built-in cameras on Macbooks and other Apple products to capture images of about 1,000 people as they examined new Apple computers.

[ . . . ]

Over the course of three days, McDonald installed his homegrown software, which captured photos every minute and sent them to his server.

Reports said that McDonald did this across computers at nearly 100 stores. He said he had the permission of Apple security guards.

In early July, he arranged an unauthorized exhibition at two Apple stores where customers were first shown a picture of themselves and then photos of other Apple store visitors.

[ . . . ]

Regarding the case itself, McDonald, said that he had been advised not to comment on the case by the online freedom group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The story implicitly raises many questions, none of which is answered in the article, including:

  1. Is it legal in New York to record someone on private property without his or her knowledge or authorization? If not, what is the penalty? Many states require that a subject consent (or, at a minimum, be notified) if he or she is being recorded without a court order.
  2. Even if the recording and storage of the images aren’t crimes, wouldn’t subsequent display of the images be a tort? When I worked in television and video production, we were required to obtained written releases from all our on-camera subjects in order to televise their images and/or voices, so they couldn’t sue us afterward.
  3. Did security guards at the Apple store really give McDonald permission to install spyware and capture customers’ images? If so, what in the world were they thinking? Apple has come under fire before for alleged privacy violations involving its products. It’s as if they don’t think customer privacy is important.
  4. Doesn’t the fact that someone wrote and installed spyware that actually worked pretty much kill the myth that Apple devices aren’t susceptible to viruses? The biggest reason most hackers don’t target Macs is because there are far fewer of them than there are PCs, not because they aren’t vulnerable. This incident proves it.
  5. Why does the Secret Service have jurisdiction in this case? Nothing in the story suggests threats to the President or any other official under Secret Service protection, nor is counterfeiting or forgery involved. To my limited knowledge, that’s all they do.
  6. Why is the Electronic Frontier Foundation involved? They have been at the forefront in the fight for freedom of electronic self-expression. If they’ve devolved into champions for Big Brother tactics, I want out.
  7. How is any of this considered “art”? By this standard, the people who install those cameras that capture images of motor vehicle plates at toll booths are “artists,” too.
  8. What kind of professional writer uses extraneous punctuation like that random comma in the first sentence? The sentence should read this way: “A New York City ‘artist’ who installed spyware onto public computers to snap photos of customers in Apple stores was visited by US Secret Service this week.” Even if the installation of spyware weren’t essential information in identifying which “artist” was visited, there would have to be a second comma after “Apple stores.”

(Hat tip: Ann Althouse.)

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Categories: law & justice, technology
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