Be careful what you do with the free MacBooks at the Apple store. Because if you overstep, Steve Jobs will send the Secret Service to your house with a warrant to steal all of your Apple products. At least, that's what it seems based on one 25-year-old artist's account of recent run-in with agents.
New York-based visual artist Kyle McDonald wanted to do a project on what people look like when they're using computers. The basic idea sounds innocent enough.
“I thought maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we're using them,” McDonald told Mashable, who first published his story. "We have this expression on our face that basically says that we're not interacting with anybody, we're interacting with the machine. Even if there are a lot of people in the room at the Apple store, you're not interacting with them. If something weird happens, you don't say, 'Hey, did you see that?'"
To capture images of people interacting with machines, McDonald loaded some simple surveillance software onto the free-to-use laptops at the14th Street Apple Store location in Manhattan. The software uses the MacBook's built-in webcam to snap a photo every hour, and after three days, McDonald had collected about a thousand images of random, unknowing Apple Store customers staring at Apple screens. (Kind of like that iPhone 4 commercial!) McDonald posted a number of the photos on a Tumblr called "People Staring At Computers" and hosted an exhibition of sorts at the Chelsea Apple Store that resulted in this video:
McDonald's project sounds a little shady at first, but it sounds like he took some steps to get permission. McDonald said that he received permission from the guard to take photos in the Apple store and asked some customers if they mind being photographed. They all said no, so he assumed most people would be okay with his project, but he never got legal permission from Apple. "As I understand, photography in open spaces is legal unless explicitly prohibited," McDonald told Gawker's Ryan Tate. "The only permission came from the guard."
Yet somehow the Secret Service showed up at McDonald's Brooklyn apartment Thursday morning to seize his two laptop, two flash drives and iPod. McDonald later said on Twitter, "[The Secret Service's] warrant says [People Staring at Computers] violates 18 USC section 1030. If you're familiar w this law, contact me. I just asked EFF for advice, too."
If Apple files charges and he's convicted, McDonald could face up to 20 years in prison.