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A lamp is spying on New Yorkers and tweeting their conversations

A lamp is spying on New Yorkers and tweeting their conversations

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Wired tells the story of two artists, Kyle McDonald and Brian House, who wanted to experiment with surveillance. The pair installed simple Wi-Fi-enabled recording devices in lamps at McDonalds, a library, a bedroom, a bank, and in New York's Washington Square Park. The recordings are sent to Mechanical Turk workers, who have been transcribing and posting them to Twitter for almost seven months.

Most of the captured conversations are mundane: thoughts like "Socks, I need socks," and "How's the weather looking for today? Hopefully good after the last week of this." But occasionally the conversations sound like something you might be sensitive about if it were you. "I'm going insane being so cautious with money." "She sounds like a keeper, honestly. You just have to let her know you want it to be serious." "For the tenth time, it's because my boss doesn't like me, I've told you this already!"

The project is called Conversnitch, and it's meant to make people paranoid about being listened to. "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 tells Wired. "And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the US government?"

The source code for Conversnitch is public, so anyone can repeat the experiment — although you should probably get FISA approval first.