Artists Spy On New Yorkers, Tweet Their Conversations

April 23, 2014 | Andy Cush

In a McDonald’s, in a bank, in library, in Washington Square Park, the lamps are listening to you. Artists Kyle McDonald and Brian House installed microphones equipped with Wi-Fi into lighting fixtures in all of the above locations, and are tweeting the conversations they overhear as part of their surveillance-art project Conversnitch.

The snippets of chatter Conversnitch picks up run the gamut from mundane to potentially salacious:

Audio is uploaded from the artists’ homebuilt recording fixtures to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk labor crowdsourcing program, where workers transcribe it, taking care to remove any names that are picked up. From there, it goes to Twitter. The video above demonstrates the installation process.

McDonald and House aren’t simply out to eavesdrop. “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 asked in an interview with Wired. “And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the U.S. government?”