July 7, 2011 at 9:19 PM ET
A Brooklyn artist says he had his computers taken away by the U.S. Secret Service when word about his recent art project got out, according to an exclusive report by Mashable.
Kyle McDonald wanted to document the way people interacted with computers. So, without permission, he installed software on public computers in two Apple Stores in New York, that took a photo a minute of anything and anyone in front of it. The photos were automatically sent to his home computers.
Over three days, McDonald collected thousands of photographs, even coming back to the stores every morning to reinstall the software, as Apple wipes store model computers every night.
McDonald uploaded the finished piece to his website, but in keeping with the spirit of the project, arranged a guerrilla-style public showing of the piece at the 14th Street Apple Store in New York last week.
As customers worked on the store computers, the screen randomly went blank, then displayed a picture of themselves, before showing off a few photographs that McDonald had captured of other unsuspecting screen gazers.
As this video taken at the event shows, a lot of people were taken aback when their screens were temporarily hijacked. But for the most part, it seemed like no one was making any serious fuss.
That is, until the Secret Service showed up at McDonald's house to collect his two computers, two flash drives and an iPod, said the artist. According to Mashable, the charge was computer fraud.
McDonald told Mashable that he tested the waters before he went ahead with his project. Before he started, he apparently asked one security guard and a few Apple Store customers if they'd mind having their pictures taken. When he found no objection, he went ahead with the much larger — and much sneakier — photo session.
McDonald's motivations seemed to be pure, as an artist at least. "I thought (if) maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we’re using them,” he told Mashable. To be fair, he was the guinea pig on his first stab at the human-screen interaction project.
While we are confident that Mashable did the due diligence and looked into the facts of this story, some puzzling questions remain. For one, if McDonald is actually under investigation by the Secret Service, it's unusual that he was so enthusiastic about talking about and even disseminating his potentially illegal project. Since the Mashable story went live, McDonald tweeted that he contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who advised him to stay quiet about the matter. But, his Tumblr page is still up.
Apple has not responded to Mashable, but we don't know their side of the story either.
For a video of McDonald's artistic misadventure, which we did not embed here for reasons that should be obvious, head over to Mashable.
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