Hidden surveillance recorders all over NYC are tweeting people’s conversations

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A pair of artists have hidden recording devices in random public and private places around New York City and have been tweeting people’s private conversations for months as part of an experiment to increase surveillance awareness.

Kyle McDonald and Brian House installed the Wi-Fi-enabled audio recorders in lamps at McDonalds, a library, a bank, Washington Square Park and even a bedroom. The captured audio is then sent to the crowdsourcing Internet marketplace Mechanical Turk, where workers transcribe the conversations and post them on Twitter. They call the project “Conversnitch.”

Many of the bits and pieces of conversations posted are rather harmless.

“Socks, I need socks.”

“No, I don’t follow the weather. You can’t trust what they say.”

Others touch on more private topics.

“I’m not pestering you, hun, I’m just asking why you didn’t get the job!”

“I’m not sure I’m qualified for the new position.”

“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?” House said in a Wired report. “And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the U.S. government?”

The artists have made the Conversnitch source code public, allowing anyone interested to copy the experiment.

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