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'I was prepared to make people a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to do anything illegal. '
July 12, 2012 7:17 PM   Subscribe

"When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: ‘People Staring at Computers’ ": A year ago (previously on MetaFilter), Kyle McDonald created an art project that landed him in some trouble with Apple and the attention of the US Secret Service. He writes about it for WIRED.
In the other comments, I started to notice a trend: people were trying to establish definitions. They were arguing about ethics and ontology (even though no one called it that). The project hit a nerve that made people uncomfortable enough that they had to share their opinions and argue their positions. If you’re at school studying art, philosophy, or politics, this isn’t a big deal. These discussions happen over lunch, or in the hallways. But this was happening on the internet.

The moment this deeper conversation began, the project turned into a collaboration with Apple and the Secret Service. I didn’t own it anymore, it belonged to the commenters who were keeping it alive in spite of my virtual death.
McDonald was a guest of the Eyeo Festival last month, which boasts 'an incredible group of creative coders, data viz pros, designers and artists.'
posted by the man of twists and turns (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
As I was saying on twitter earlier - yup, that's the way you'd get yourself a Secret Service visit.

Also this guys expectations from the world seem a little odd.

Still, I kind of like his paintings.
posted by Artw at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also this guys expectations from the world seem a little odd.

I think they're really only odd because they don't mesh with reality as it exists.

They do mesh with a form of reality I often wish did exist.

So perhaps it's reality that is odd, and his expectations are right on target.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


'I was prepared to make people a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to do anything illegal. '

When you make certain people (wealthy, powerful, famous,etc.) uncomfortable, assume it's now ALWAYS illegal.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:04 PM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think he's being rather disingenuous when he talks about taking photographs in a public space. For one thing, a photographer is generally recognizable as such, and for another, he's installing software on a computer he doesn't own without their permission, which seems to be a key component in the definition of malware.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:15 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually thought the watercolors of the people looking at the computer with the slack expression were probably more interesting than the actual photos would have been.

I'm also very conscious of my facial expression as I'm typing right now.
posted by immlass at 8:18 PM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you make certain people (wealthy, powerful, famous,etc.) uncomfortable, assume it's now ALWAYS illegal.

Part of the definition of terrorism in the USA PATRIOT Act:
...activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state, that (B) appear to be intended... (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion...
So, yep. Don't get caught intimidating a government in this brave new world or you can be pretty sure that something you did at some point in your life will turn out to have been dangerous to human life in violation of the laws of a state of the government's choosing.
posted by XMLicious at 8:25 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I was prepared to make people a little uncomfortable"

What a delightfully obtuse statement. Fucker sounds like landed gentry playing with the serfs.

DANCE, MY PUPPETS! DANCE! ENTERTAIN ME!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why is it even possible to install software on the Apple Store computers? They deliberately cultivate an atmosphere of "come in and use our computers." A lack of discouragement can itself be a signal.

Did anyone else have a moment during that article, when he was describing the first time he saw his "Computer Face", when you suddenly felt how relaxed and expressionless your own face was? I just read in an article about dressage, how a horse who is properly focused and 'submissive' will start drooling/foaming slightly, their jaw is so relaxed. Do we have the same relationship to a screen?
posted by muddgirl at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


An object lesson on why we all need to review our rights for when the law shows up at our door, I guess. I'm somewhat surprised that he volunteered his passwords to the computers after the Secret Service agent told him (indirectly) he wasn't required to provide it. He sounds kind of proud of himself for handling the Secret Service so well, (they didn't seem to know what to make of me, I was so accommodating) but he just made their job way easier than he needed to.

It's like, man, you can't make these guys your friends.

I don't know I'd do much better if the Secret Service ever showed up at my front door but hopefully I wouldn't be worried about "letting them down."
posted by newg at 8:31 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No artist has ever admitted that their art will make people uncomfortable before.
posted by muddgirl at 8:32 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The watercolors on the Wired article are not McDonald's ("courtesy of David Pierce.").

I had seen his research with CV around before - didn't realize the person who did this project was THAT guy. Surprising - I remember basically coming to the conclusion after the 1st metafilter post that the whole stunt was being provocative in the way a teenager would be. Just for attention.
posted by victory_laser at 8:35 PM on July 12, 2012


Or, you know, not wander into stores and install a bunch Of spyware and act suprised when anyone is concerned by that, then email the CEO of a major corporation to complain because he seems like he should be your mate.
posted by Artw at 8:35 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The watercolors on the Wired article are not McDonald's ("courtesy of David Pierce.").

Ah, then he doesn't even have that going for him.
posted by Artw at 8:36 PM on July 12, 2012


DAMN, and he was the guy that did this too?!

He actually is capable of making some pretty interesting stuff. Hopefully he won't go to prison and he can use this 15 minutes to continue doing that.
posted by victory_laser at 8:39 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's my bottom line: If it was possible for this guy to go in and install this program (albeit for one day), what else has been on those computers? Keyloggers?

Taking a photo of a person using a computer is, basically, harmless and legal. The fact that it was possible to do something basically harmless and legal means that someone else could already have done something harmful and illegal (considering how people use Apple Stores). I don't know why people are annoyed at the artist and not at Apple.
posted by muddgirl at 8:40 PM on July 12, 2012


Here's my bottom line: If it was possible for this guy to go in and install this program (albeit for one day), what else has been on those computers? Keyloggers?

Well, probably not that. Can't hook into system-level stuff without admin-level credentials. And then the machines are probably wiped pretty frequently.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:44 PM on July 12, 2012


People can't even be bothered to log off of Facebook in the Apple Store
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:00 PM on July 12, 2012


No artist has ever admitted that their art will make people uncomfortable before.

This statement has made me have a eureka moment. I now realize that making people intensely uncomfortable is actually what Nickelback is all about.
posted by juiceCake at 9:30 PM on July 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


People can't even be bothered to log off of Facebook in the Apple Store

I was talking to a friend who works at the Apple store in Sydney, and he said that, every day, an employee is rostered to walk around and log out of the open internet banking sessions that the punters have just left open on the demo computers and walked away from.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:48 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the most baffling part of that whole Wired story was: Apple stores don't use Deep Freeze? Holy cow, that's nuts! I'll be remembering that next time I use an Apple Store computer (so many ways for public computers to go wrong...oh so many ways).
posted by librarylis at 9:53 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the most baffling part of that whole Wired story was: Apple stores don't use Deep Freeze? Holy cow, that's nuts!

Actually, the story explicitly says that at the time Apple did, in fact, use Deep Freeze. The article quotes from an email from a friend of the artist, a former Apple Store employee:
"The machines are set with auto shut down and auto startup times. This is what Apple uses to keep the system clean. It freezes a copy of the system that resets when you log out."
The anchor text of the liked "This" in the article links to Faronics Deep Freeze.
posted by RichardP at 10:19 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know I'd do much better if the Secret Service ever showed up at my front door but hopefully I wouldn't be worried about "letting them down."

They're people doing a tough job, it's okay to have compassion for them. Being uncooperative is going to make their day difficult.

Make sure to offer them a cup of tea while explaining that it's nothing personal. Politeness helps everyone.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:08 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A similar takedown request was sent to F.A.T. and Vimeo. Tumblr and Vimeo removed the content immediately, and later that day F.A.T. Lab fellow Evan Roth (after I requested the images be removed) responded by censoring every photo with a cut-and-paste image of Steve Jobs’ face."

Heh.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 AM on July 13, 2012


DAMN, and he was the guy that did this too?!

I will admit that even though I wanted to hear Only Everything Lasts Forever, I thought twice about downloading / clicking on anything associated with Kyle McDonald.
posted by dubold at 12:40 AM on July 13, 2012


I'm still amazed at the number of people that will blithely type their login/passwords to services like gmail, online banking, skype, google talk etc on random untrusted public computers.
posted by thewalrus at 3:13 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still amazed at the number of people that will blithely type their login/passwords to services like gmail, online banking, skype, google talk etc on random untrusted public computers.

Well, if that includes library computers, then these people are doing that because they may not have any other computer access. In the case of store computers, they probably want to make sure that the computer will do what they want it to do, or want to see what program/site X looks like on computer Y.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:19 AM on July 13, 2012


I think he's being rather disingenuous when he talks about taking photographs in a public space. For one thing, a photographer is generally recognizable as such,

Not always. I have a 70-200 lens that I use to shoot hs football, costs about $300, and I can photograph you fairly accurately and intimately from a distance at which you would never notice me. In fact, when I shoot a festival or other public event, you don't know I took your picture until I approach you afterwards to get your name, for the caption. Because posed pictures suck.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:43 AM on July 13, 2012


The watercolors on the Wired article are not McDonald's ("courtesy of David Pierce.").

I assumed they were Wired's way of getting around using the photos, just as TV news used to (still does?) commission color sketches of people in court cases where photos aren't aren't allowed in the courtroom. As "art" they introduce an element that I preferred to the raw photos. Looking at the raw photos with the Steve Jobs head on them on the linked page made me intensely uncomfortable, so I guess McDonald achieved his goal. For me, the watercolors intermediated something that made the expressions easier to handle.

I also wondered whether the Steve Jobs watercolor was from a photo or an extrapolation, because I think could be some interesting things coming from using that technique about celebrities/politicians/etc.
posted by immlass at 7:15 AM on July 13, 2012


I have a 70-200 lens
...which sticks out a foot from your face. It's noticeable. Now you're right, I can't necessarily tell who it's pointed at, but in a space like a retail store, it would still be clear you're taking pictures.

Anyway, my point was that he asked the Apple store if it was OK to take pictures, not if it was OK to hack their computers to take pictures.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:22 AM on July 13, 2012


I also wondered whether the Steve Jobs watercolor was from a photo or an extrapolation

It's from a set of him goofing around with the Photo Booth app in 2005. An Apple developer posted them on Facebook after Jobs died.
posted by zsazsa at 7:27 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The one thing that baffles me about this is that Apple siccs the Secret Service onto this guy, they confiscate his laptop... so his first reaction is to go down to the Apple store and thank them by dropping a four-figure sum on a new one.

Stockholm syndrome much?
posted by Hogshead at 4:58 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're people doing a tough job, it's okay to have compassion for them. Being uncooperative is going to make their day difficult.

Right, sure. But they are still professionals doing a job and as such it is appropriate to interact with them as professionals, not as individuals you know on a personal level.

It is possible to ascertain the extent of and the nature of your rights in any given situation and still be respectful and cooperative. The guy asked, "Do I have to give you my passwords?" and the agent gave him an oblique answer. It is not making their day difficult to ask again until you get a response that is clear to you, like "yes" or "no."

This guy seemed to feel like he had nothing to hide, but then, he wasn't expecting the visit either. If he didn't know he could get in trouble with the Secret Service, it is possible that he may not have understood other aspects of the situation either.

I am absolutely NOT advocating obstruction or resistance outside of the bounds of one's rights. I am advocating for everyone to know exactly what their rights are before such situations come unexpectedly. The agents who show up at your door might be nice guys but who knows what their boss wants to do with the info they collect. It is ok to treat the Secret Service as the opposing team in a game where you are all playing by the same rules when they show up at your front door. It is ok to know your rights and exercise them. This isn't making someone else's job harder, it is making them do their job more precisely.
posted by newg at 9:37 AM on July 14, 2012


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