People Staring at Computers

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People Staring at Computers is an art project and Tumblr Blog created by Kyle McDonald in June 2011. McDonald traveled to two Apple Store locations in New York City; one on West 14th Street and one on SoHo Street. Each Apple Store contains about 50 desktop and laptop computers, half of which were used for the project after installing an application. The application was created by McDonald and took one picture from the Apple Store’s computer webcam every minute. This application also included face recognition, allowing the computer to take a picture only if a face was detected in front of the webcam. Apple Stores routinely clear their computer servers every night so each day McDonald had to reinstall the program. McDonald would also take video of the customer’s reactions once the picture was taken. The project was complete after three days and in total collected over a thousand photographs of Apple Store customers.

Final Exhibition[edit]

The final exhibition took place on July 3, 2011 and was titled People Staring at Computers. The exhibition was shown both online (via Tumblr) and in both the SoHo and West 14th Street location. During the exhibition, each computer took photo at the same time of the subject currently in front of the webcam. The customer’s photo would be shown then followed by all previous photos taken over the three-day period. Video of the previous subjects’ reactions was also shown in the final exhibition. The exhibition lasted one minute and reached over 105k views online alone.

Legal development[edit]

On July 7, 2011, Kyle McDonald was investigated by the US Secret Service under US Code Title 18 / 1030. Kyle McDonald has tweeted:

@secretservice just stopped by to investigate peoplestaringatcomputers.tumblr.com and took my laptop. please assume they're reading any emails you send me.

— @kcimc, July 7, 2011 tweet [1]

He has also stated that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has advised not to comment on the ongoing investigation.[2]

On July 14, 2011, the video and tumblr were removed. After receiving a letter from Apple, FAT Lab administrator Evan Roth censored the original post by replacing every face with the image of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

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