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The Stack Archive

An eavesdropping lamp that livetweets private conversations – the art of provocation, but is it art?

Wed 23 Apr 2014

Wired reports that two artists in the US have built what they call Conversnitch, a device that looks like a lamp but is in fact listening to nearby conversations, which can be transcribed and snippets of those conversations posted to Twitter. Why? To raise questions about the nature of public and private spaces in an era when anything can be broadcast by ubiquitous, internet-connected listening devices, say the artists. Coming a day after we posted about how Amazon is using voice control one has to ask if life is imitating art?

Excerpt
“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?” asks (Brian) House, a 34-year-old adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. “And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the U.S. government?”

The surveillance gadget they unveiled Wednesday is constructed from little more than a Raspberry Pi miniature computer, a microphone, an LED and a plastic flower pot. It screws into and draws power from any standard bulb socket. Then it uploads captured audio via the nearest open Wi-Fi network to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, which Kyle McDonald and House pay small fees to transcribe the audio and post lines of conversation to Conversnitch’s Twitter account. “This is stuff you can buy and have running in a few hours,” says McDonald, a 28-year-old adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at the Tisch School of the Arts.”

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