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Secret Service nabs Apple Store spy camera artist

An artist goes to two New York Apple stores and installs software that takes an automatic shot of customers' faces as they stare. One morning, he is woken by Secret Service agents.

Steve Jobs believes in art.

But there seem to have been some at Apple who are slightly less inclined toward it after discovering that an artist had installed software on around 100 Apple Store computers.

The software was set up simply to capture shots of people's faces every minute as they stared into the laptops of their dreams. As 25-year-old Brooklyn artist Kyle McDonald explained to Mashable, we all have very particular expressions when we are in the throes of Mac hypnosis.

"I thought maybe we could see ourselves doing this we would think more about our computers and how we're using them, he said.

Who could have no sympathy with his quest? Well, the Secret Service, for one. Or, indeed, for four. For McDonald was woken this morning by the friendly but insistent faces of four members of the service and one search warrant.

While they didn't immediately remove him, they did take with them two computers, an iPod, and two flash drives. They also reportedly told him that he would be receiving communication from Apple.

People Staring at Computers from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

McDonald's Tumblr feed contains some of the images that his software managed to take. Moreover, he arranged a public exhibition of his work in an Apple store. Some of the laptops displayed not only stills of the people staring at them but also those of others who had previously been captured.

As he says in his video, most people, on seeing one of the pictures just hit the "escape" button when they saw themselves. Which, some art critics might say, shows just how dimly we view ourselves in reality.

McDonald reportedly has many feelings about this whole escapade. He first believed that Apple, having traced the software back to him (oh, yes, the company monitors Apple Store computers), wasn't too concerned. He claims that an Apple technician had spotted the software, installed it himself, and taken a picture of himself, and sent the photo to McDonald.

Then he wondered whether he was breaking the law at all.

He reportedly claims he asked Apple's security guards whether he could take pictures inside the stores. He also reportedly took pictures of people with a camera. And no one objected to that. Although it's not as if those people were featured in his works of art. Many of those people may not yet know that they have been committed to posterity.

Like a latter-day Google Street Viewer, McDonald said that if people see themselves on his site, they can ask to be removed. He didn't even display the source code online, so that it couldn't be used for nefarious purposes.

So what might happen to this Michelangelo taking on higher, more entrenched forces?

Will the Secret Service press some kind of fraud charges? Will Apple attempt to pursue him in the same way (inconclusively) that it pursued the man who allegedly picked up an iPhone 4 prototype?

Or will the company decide that it might be able to use his work as an artistic expression of just how rapt human beings can be when they encounter the shiny world of the Apple store? Surely pictures of faces are more interesting than the images of laps everyone saw during the launch of the iPad.

Apple hasn't yet commented on this little exhibition of artistic bravery. But I know that lawyers out there will have strong feelings about this, as will the throngs of artists. I am prepared to organize a duel between the two.

At heart, though, what is more creepy? That someone took a picture of you without you knowing? Or the gawking, eye-dulled expression that human beings seem to take on when they're staring into a computer?