Covert In-Store Portraits, Apple, and the Secret Service

Artist Kyle McDonald caused quite a hoopla last year after using a custom-written program to photograph unsuspecting people using Apple Store computers. Apple quickly issued a takedown request and the Secret Service was sent to confiscate McDonald’s gear. Yesterday Wired published an interesting article in which McDonald gives his long and detailed account of the whole fiasco:

I didn’t want to break the law. I was prepared to make people a little uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to do anything illegal. That ruled out using private computers. I tried to think of a busy public space full of computers, and the Apple Store seemed so obvious. I read “The Photographer’s Right” to make sure it was ok to take the photos.

[It] sounded simple. There was definitely no expectation of privacy: the 14th Street Apple Store has glass walls. And I saw people taking pictures inside all the time, so I just had to double check with an employee. It seemed clear that I was legally within my rights, but I wanted to be sensitive to the people being photographed. I decided in advance that I would make sure it was easy to contact me if someone saw their photo and wanted it removed. I would try to keep Apple out of the discussion by always referring to it as a “computer store”, but Apple’s strong aesthetic makes it hard to hide.

When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: ‘People Staring at Computers’ [Wired]

  • ennuipoet

    This was fascinating article, beyond the story itself and whether or not the artist broke any laws. (He didn’t, violated Apple policy maybe, but not illegal.) The reaction of the Internet to the story spotlights an interesting bias, the outpouring of bile toward the artist and his art project. While I would classify the project as art in “Wow, that should be in a museum” kind of way, it definitely is in the “hold a mirror up the world” fashion. The idea made people uncomfortable, even crossed a perceived boundary and more importantly highlighted total disregard of a corporate entity invading your privacy versus the individual doing the same. On that alone, I extend kudos to Mr. McDonald.

  • David Rychart

    Yes, exactly. I think though that another question (if not bigger, still interesting) is the one missed in all the hoopla. What does it mean to “interact” with someone via a computer terminal? After reading about how so many people had blank, expressionless faces while at the computer, it made me think consciously about my facial expressions at my computer; what kind of face I’m making right at this moment, and what does that mean in terms of interpersonal communication in the future? All very interesting questions, and, if not worthy to be called art, certainly worthy to be discussed and questioned.

    It really is too bad he didn’t roll out his project in two parts the way he described later n the article. But then again perhaps it wouldn’t have gotten the attention that it did either.

  • Wildfitzy

    Why the Secret Service. Surely they are mistaken. They are too busy in the South Americas with the late night parties and hookers!!!!!!