"Brian House and Kyle McDonald’s creation, the Conversnitch, impersonates a lightbulb or lamp while eavesdropping on and livetweeting nearby conversations." Image Source: Kyle McDonald via Wired.
Wired reports on a lamp called Conversnitch which eavesdrops on the conversations of passersby. These objects automatically retweet the conversations live on Twitter:
Kyle McDonald and Brian House say they hope to raise questions about the nature of public and private spaces in an era when anything can be broadcast by ubiquitous, Internet-connected listening devices.
“What does it mean to deploy one of these in a library, a public square, someone’s bedroom? What kind of power relationship does it set up?” asks House, a 34-year-old adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. “And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the U.S. government?”
The surveillance gadget they unveiled Wednesday [23 April 2014] is constructed from little more than a Raspberry Pi miniature computer, a microphone, an LED and a plastic flower pot. It screws into and draws power from any standard bulb socket. Then it uploads captured audio via the nearest open Wi-Fi network to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, which McDonald and House pay small fees to transcribe the audio and post lines of conversation to Conversnitch’s Twitter account. “This is stuff you can buy and have running in a few hours,” says McDonald, a 28-year-old adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts. ...
[A] video they’ve posted online (embedded below) shows two people with obscured faces planting Conversnitch in a light fixture in a New York McDonald’s, disguised as a desk lamp in a bedroom and a bank lobby, in a library, and inside a lamp post in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. A glance at the Conversnitch Twitter feed shows fragments of conversations about topics as private as a failed course, a job interview rejection, someone’s frayed relationship with his or her boss and criticisms of a politician.
Conversnitch's inventors argue that their device is something between a warning bell and a piece of technological art, rather like a similar work about which I blogged earlier this year, which is unambiguously fictitious. The motto for Conversnitch is: Bridging the gap between online and IRL.“We recognize that this device can be used in an illegal way, and we will not admit to using it in that way,” McDonald says cagily. “It has potentially been deployed in various places. ... I think you have to make things provocative or even dangerous if you want people to pay attention. ... You can’t make this stuff up anymore,” says McDonald. “Here were Brian and I trying to make something kind of scary, something that makes you wonder if someone’s watching you all the time. And then Snowden says, ‘They are.’”
"Conversnitch being planted in a library. House and McDonald obscured the individual’s face to avoid legal issues." Image Source: Kyle McDonald via Wired.
The components of Conversnitch, including a Raspberry Pi miniature computer, an LED light source and a plastic flower pot. Image Source: Kyle McDonald via Wired.