back to article Feds seize kit from Apple Store spyware artist

An artist who surreptitiously installed a video art installation on computers in two New York Apple Stores says that four US Secret Service agents awakened him on Thursday morning, produced a search warrant, then confiscated his couputers and other kit. Kyle McDonald Kyle McDonald The project that got Brooklyn, New York, …


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  1. banjomike

    Presumably the Secret Service are fanbois ...

    ... Maybe they get discounts on ipods. They are certainly quick to jump on anyone who ... um .. I'll stop there.

    Yay Apple.

  2. Steve Evans

    Well as this is Apple...

    I believe the traditional way of dealing with Apple is to issue a counter suit.

    "The technician had apparently traced the traffic to the site McDonald used to upload the program to Apple Store computers — and installed it himself."

    And there you have it... Software piracy!

  3. Steen Hive
    Big Brother

    Very naughty.

    But I wonder how many times the average punter's picture was taken in the apple store *before* they got in front of the rigged computers.

  4. Ryan 7

    Steve's angry.

    You won't like Steve when he's angry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't Like Steve?

      Hi Ryan 7

      Quote <You may not like Steve when he's angry.>

      I cannot stand him at any time. He is too much like Murdock,

      "You can have anything you like as long as its what I tell you to like."

  5. nyelvmark

    This time, when shoppers looked at a Mac they saw a picture of themselves...

    Uh, how does that work?

    Somebody, somewhere is pushing very hard the idea that face-recognition software works, even though it doesn't (not the camera-type software that can say "that is a face", but high-performance software that can say "that is your face"). El Reg seem to be believers. Does anyone know why?

    1. nyelvmark

      Oh, wait...

      They saw a live picture of themselves taken by the onboard camera? Duh........................

    2. Bumpy Cat

      Errr ...

      The Mac takes a picture/video, displays it straight back at the user ... ? One of us is missing something obvious here.

    3. magnetik


      "somewhere is pushing very hard the idea that face-recognition software works, even though it doesn't"

      Really? Ever tried the face recognition built into iPhoto? I think you may be surprised at just how well it works.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    The EFF?

    What are they doing involved in this case? Why are they wasting money on it? Artist or not, the guy installed software on computers that weren't his, weren't in his charge and that he had no permission from the owners of those computers to install. That's straight-up criminal behaviour.

    The snapping photos probably isn't criminal. But the installation of that program is.

    1. mafoo

      reading between the lines...

      reading between the lines the EFF told him to shut up. ;)

    2. bluesxman

      RE: The EFF?

      "What are they doing involved in this case?"

      Erm sounds like he asked them for advice and they duly told him to keep his trap shut, as he quite possibly doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. I'd surmise that their involvement isn't much more or less than that.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The snapping photos probably isn't criminal"

      Er, I would think it is. So, unfortunately for him, criminal action on two counts, hacking and an illegal surveillance operation. If I came into your business and, unknown to you installed software to surveille your staff and customers, you don't think that would be illegal?

      Unfortunately for this guy, though his motives may not have been bad, the law doesn't work like that. IMHO the most he can hope for is leniency in sentencing after conviction.

    4. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Thumb Up

      The guy is dingbat and derserves a few hours community service at least!

      "The snapping photos probably isn't criminal."

      Usually you need a model release form from the person you have snapped in order to use their image. He said he simply got permission from the security guard, the guard is not in a position to grant that privilege. Even as an amateur I have to obtain permission from the owners of any private property I wish to shoot pictures on. So all the tourists you see snapping away down the London Underground are actually in violation of the LT bylaws believe it or not, I know I had to write to obtain permission for my personal amateur snaps.

      The guy installed software on a private machine with the express intention of taking pictures without permission! Let me try that, I'll wander into the local Apple store, set up my tripod and SLR, get my laptop out and start snapping! Let's see how many seconds it takes for the security goons to grab me and my kit and a) sling me or more likely b) call the local fuzz have me taken down the local cop-shop!

  7. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Sorry, you got the wrong end of the story...

    He wasn't arrested for installing software and spying on people without their knowledge. He was arrested for crimes against art.

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Sorry, you got the wrong end of the story...

      He should come over to the UK, they'll hand good money over for any old pile of crap.. Just ask Tracy Emin.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And he should title the work "I want to spunk on their faces"

        El Reg moderator, before you censor this comment, please be aware I have artistic authority and intellectual integrity. Tracy Emin produced far more provocatively titled "my cunt is wet with fear" displayed at the Saachi gallery.

  8. dssf

    I wonder why it seems no customers asked the Geniouses...

    Probably the surreptitious part, though, is that when we walk into stores and see ourselves on displays, we assume it all is the store's kit. So, these people seemingly had no worries.

    That the Secret Service arrived instead of the local police means apple called in the BIG GUNS, knowing this would break into news. Instead of it looking benign and only local cops being involved, the involvement of the SS means hackers and crackers across the USA will take note. Also, even though the FBI might have instead taken the visit task if MacDonald crossed state lines physicall, or only crossed via the Internets, the SS involvement is probably VERY serious.

    Either MacDonald's code is in play in other nefarious activities (whether or not he knew) at the hands of others, or he is not forthcoming. Or, a special departmental task force in the Secret Service supersedes many or all others below. Theoretically, if he did this to an airport or transit agency, the DHLS might take the investigaion lead role.

    I bet he won't be doing this anymore. It's possible he wasn't the only one but that another player so irked apple that when the saw MacDonald, I am sure they were angry and out for blood, but not likely singing "Oh, MacDonald has a Phorm..."

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Criminal behavior, maybe...

    ...but worth a visit from the FBI?


    Somehow if a citizen uses a computer for any crime, the maximum sentence goes up.

    At the same time, those in power (be it government authorities, or corporate boards) love computers for spying. The rules are incredibly liberal for them to do so.

    I'm all for strong laws against computer crime, but this guy clearly isn't doing the same thing as someone hacking into a system and stealing credit card information.

    It seems like the FBI would rather go after this guy than people who commit serious crimes.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      There are some problems with your post.

      Those computers are for patrons only to help them decide what they'd like to purchase. Tampering with the machines in an unauthorised capacity is serious enough for someone higher up to get involved, let alone what they'll have to pay for their network usage. I work for a browngoods chain and it pisses me off to no end when "customers" take liberties with the display material. A factory restore that needs to be monitored over half an hour is still ~$50AUD that could be better spent on staff elsewhere. When you're complaining that no one's serving you for your piddly $15 cable, consider as much.

      Gizmodo reported that he got permission from the security guard. The help's only technical experience, generally speaking, is converting downloaded internet porn to work on their portable DVD player. It's not informed consent.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Oh thats what their for

        I thought they were for kids to update their Facebook status. "Hey I'm in the Apple store".

        Every tried looking at a computer in an Apple store t a weekend...

      2. Anonymous Coward


        "let alone what they'll have to pay for their network usage"

        Yeah coz uploading some JPGs uses way more bandwidth than customers watching YouTube videos on the display machines right?

  10. mafoo

    could have been...

    Imagine instead of taking pictures he put a keyloger on....

    ...thats hundreds if not thousands of little oiks' facebook accounts compromised per day.

    I think whats worse here, tho, is he had the audacity to call it art.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      Yep, that was *not* smart however you look at it.

      Thar arts master didn't have a side dish in ethics and legalities.

  11. ratfox


    As computer crimes go, this is the Apple-stealing kind (heh).

    If I was the people at Apple, I would ask for a dollar in symbolic damages. What do they have to gain in asking for more? Or rather, like the guy who sold white iPhones, it will be settled for an undisclosed amount, under condition that he keeps his mouth shut about the fact they did not make him sell his organs in reparation.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge

    I always though that and apple a day....

    ....kept the Feds away?

  13. ch815

    Isnt the more important thing...

    Why was he able to install his code and have it running undetected for so long? Surely the computers in the store should be locked down or load a clean image of the OS on being rebooted?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Why would you lock down the OS images of computers that you are using as an advert for how nice and easy your OS/hardware platform is? Likewise you wouldn't want to have anything messing with the OS boot because it's likely that potential customers will want to see the machine boot.

      I would have thought re-imaging the machines once a week or so would have done the job, with maybe ad-hoc re-images of machines that the potential customers have arsed up.

  14. Fihart

    A slightly more sophisticated version of....

    ...when "a friend" used to wander around Dixons typing "format" at the DOS prompt C: on the computers on display hoping that some later customer would press the enter key.....

    1. JB


      10 PRINT "Dixons are shit"

      20 GOTO 10

      RUN...out of shop as quickly as you can!

  15. Big Al

    Why the Secret Service?

    Coz it is actually part of their job.

    From their own website:


    Computer Fraud - Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1030, authorizes the Secret Service to investigate computer crimes. Violations enforced under this statute include unauthorized access to protected computers, theft of data such as personal identification used to commit identity theft, denial of service attacks used for extortion or disruption of e-commerce and malware (malicious software) distribution to include viruses intended for financial gain.


    I think data for personal identification includes images of people taken without either their knowledge *or the knowledge of the computer's owner* and then sent to an offsite server.

    And that's before we include the argument about whether his code is, strictly speaking, malware or not, and before we consider whether these computers should be considered 'protected' by being on Holy Ground.

  16. TheManCalledStan

    Since when

    has a contracted store security guard been the person to ask about permission of this nature... the store manager giving you permission would give you an alibi as they are an officer of Apple corp.

    And the bit about photograph permission is very different, to the images collected surreptitiously later on...

  17. h4rm0ny
    Thumb Down

    I don't know if it's Art.

    But I don't like it.

  18. Stgeli

    Vain amusement

    I once used some software to take a picture of me at my own work machine every five minutes and store them away. It was quite funny when I then viewed them back the following day to see the weird set of faces that I was pulling while doing my normal business.

  19. westlake

    New York/New Jersey Electronic Crimes Task Force

    This is why the Secret Service becomes involved:

    "Since 1984, the Secret Service's investigative responsibilities have expanded to include crimes that involve financial institution fraud, computer and telecommunications fraud, false identification documents, access device fraud, advance fee fraud, electronic funds transfers and money laundering as it relates to the agency's core violations."

    "In 2006, the New York Electronic Crimes Task Force merged with the Newark Electronic Crimes Working Group to form the New York/New Jersey Electronic Crimes Task Force. This combined entity enhances cooperation between law enforcement and corporations in the greater New York and New Jersey areas to combat electronic crimes.

    Investigations conducted by the U.S. Secret Service through the ECTFs include crimes such as:

    Computer generated counterfeit currency

    Bank fraud

    Counterfeit checks

    Credit card fraud

    Virus and worm proliferation

    Access device fraudTelecommunications fraud

    Internet threats

    Computer system intrusions and cyber-attacks


    Assistance with internet related child pornography and exploitation

    CD/DVD piracy

    Terrorism/terrorist financing nexus

    Identity theft "

  20. micheal


    A couple of guys get a long holiday in prison for a similar thing that involved fake virusware? same mode of operation, install rogue software....except they got $20 million, he gets nowt

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about the "no criminal intent" defense?

    Or does that only work when you're taking secret photos of children?

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