Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Lamp That Tweets: Night's Black Agents

Here's a fun idea: why not put together a bug - total cost about $100, set up time maybe two hours - install it in a lamp, and then Tweet everything the bug overhears, in real time? That's what the creators of Conversnitch set out to do, and the resulting Twitter feed's been live for months. It's all part of an ongoing experiment to bring public surveillance into the wider conversation, by showing people just how easy it is to set up a surveillance feed. Some technical expertise required, naturally, but  once that hurdle's jumped anything's possible.

As a device, it achieves its objective. The only mild disappointment is that it relies on live workers to transcribe and Tweet the end result; it'd be so much more sinister if it was completely automated. Probably it could be automated, but doing so would certainly bump up the cost.

From a Night's Black Agents perspective, what does this device achieve?

As a piece of surveillance equipment, not much. Yes, it's neat, but it does little out of the ordinary. The main attraction here is the live Tweeting, broadcasting people's unconsidered conversations for all the world to see. As a device to give to the antagonists so they can overhear the protagonists' conversations, it's a bit of a bust.

But suppose that wasn't its purpose?

There are at least two possibilities here: the accidental Tweet, and the revenge Tweet.

In the accident version, the protagonists - or someone they care about - happens to be standing near one of these lamps when they say something indiscreet. It could be anything, and could have happened anywhere; that's the beauty of it.  The ones who set up the device, in this instance, would be artists and academics conducting an experiment, just as in the original example. They don't know what's so important about this particular conversation, but someone else does, and happens to discover the live Tweet stream. Cue chaos, as the protagonists' latest plan is revealed by an art project gone wrong.

The revenge Tweet has slightly more potential. In this example, the person who sets up the device isn't affiliated with the Conspiracy, but has reason to be pissed off with the protagonists. This person sets up the bug with an automated Tweet feature, and plants it somewhere useful. Then anything the protagonist says ends up on Twitter, constantly. There's no turning it off, or pressing pause; whatever's said ends up as 140 characters in a long stream of Tweets. Imagine the potential for chaos, as the protagonist's secrets and fears are plastered all over the internet. 

No comments:

Post a Comment