To Remind of Surveillance, Artists Stream Web Cams from Around the World

From picturesque landscapes to busy city squares, surveillance is everywhere.

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Jan 6 2016, 3:20pm

Image: Screengrab/You Are Watching Me

A park bench sits alone. A vast snow-plain stretches on for miles. Lush green mountains reach up to an expansive blue sky. Cars bustle across a city crossroad in all directions, and a packed pizza restaurant serves dozens of customers.

Each scene, a live stream from an Internet connected video camera, remains only for a few seconds before suddenly jumping to the next. The cameras, unsecured and publicly accessible, are part of an art project available online called "You Are Watching Me."

"The film is a live edit of several feeds from all over the world," Eva Domènech, one of the artists behind the project, told Motherboard in an online chat.

"We found the feeds through a few websites that catalog open cameras. We didn't use Shodan or any bot directly, and we are only using camera feeds that exist online without any kind of password protection: anyone with access to their URL can view them freely," added fellow artist Claudia Oliveira.

Image: Screengrab/You Are Watching Me

"The whole project came to be because we feel extremely uneasy about the increasing loss of privacy we keep being subjected to. When we found these open cameras we saw a way in which to show how our data can be misappropriated," Domènech said.

Web cam streaming sites are nothing new. Motherboard reported on one back in 2014 which pooled together cameras that only used their default administrative passwords, making it easy for hackers to systematically break into hundreds of thousands of them.

And it appears that similar sites have fostered their own communities, with people leaving comments and coming back to the same streams, again and again.

"We could see that some people really knew a lot about certain feeds and sometimes even recognised and knew the routines of certain people that appeared on camera," Oliveira said, "Which brings us to the more disturbing side of these websites."

Some sites display recent searches carried out by visitors, and terms such as "room" and "sex" appear from time to time, Oliveira added.

Image: Screengrab/You Are Watching Me

"There is also the issue of the cameras that can be remotely controlled online by anyone. These cameras have a high focal length and if they are at crowded places they tend to end up showing close ups of women's legs or cleavage or even trying to frame close ups of their phones," she said. In response, the duo have blurred the streams that are then pumped into their website, obfuscating any detail in the images.

As for how it all works, a playlist of sorts is created from an array of streams the artists have selected. Some of the data carried over to the site includes the camera's URL, time zone, alternative feeds if it has any, and accompanying sound file.

"We then use Javascript to read this data and play the film, changing each shot, adding visual filters and playing the sound files in real time," Domènech said. The audio is composed from found sounds on the internet, and from various sources. "We then superimpose the sounds onto the live visual feed," she added.

"We wanted to make a kind of fake documentary that ultimately shows a sad reality, that we are constantly being target of surveillance."