Fixing the Wheel for the Good of Open Source Surveillance

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Fixing the Wheel for the Good of Open Source Surveillance

by Sebastian Gallese

Artist Statement

First, a bit on ChatRoulette

ChatRoulette is about seeing people you think you know, people that look all too familiar, and waving your hand. ChatRoulette is facing down your fear of exhibitionism and embracing a private reality TV voyeurism. Ignore the moral media's call for "decency," this is a just-in-time webcam service.

But ChatRoulette is also about waiting in anticipation, boredom, buggy software, auto-skipping, webcam spam, masturbation, and special effects.

We often assume what we see is a live feed, but we know this is not always the case. Prevalent among the "Strangers" are previously recorded cams, still images, film clips, and even yourself mirrored back over the Internet from two seconds ago. This is ignoring all of the visual conversations that refuse to use a voice and all the ding-dongs on the text screen that occupies nearly two-thirds of your window.

In summary, this is not the classic space of watching and being watched, but a StumbleUpon for the ubiquitous Desktop webcam for Youtubing or the embedded camera in the laptop or phone. A different language for sure, in an anonymous yet public yet private yet direct yet passive yet space yet non-space.

Next, inserting yourself

You could be a fly on the wall. You could be a bug on the phone line. You could be the kind of person who calls two people and connects the phones end-to-end. The two parties on the line know there is something wrong- there is noise (in this case, brief flashes of white from the pngs your copying, a permanent camera/microphone volume knob from the Flash interface, and the inability to directly hear or type with the other person). The connection isn't perfect, yet sometimes they stay, watching as your computer flips the other line from cam to cam.

As long as you remain perfectly quiet, you can bootleg the conversations of real people. Speaking up just confuses them, as the voice quality is abysmal and your own program can't spare enough CPU cycles to let you type.

ChatRoulette seems... off for them and you. It still works, right?

The found webcam

This is by no means opening a new channel of communication. This same project could have expanded in x number of directions, some being more revolutionary or democratic than others. However, what's important here is how we encounter the content of a one-on-one webcam that is now a one-on-?-on-one. This content was meant to be given away- to that person the "Stranger" sees on the screen. But you caught a glimpse of it instead. You sit there for hours as nobody is able to connect across your line, but then, for a few seconds, you catch two strangers making eyes, one pair on the screen to your right and the other pair on the screen to your left, and those eyes are then transmitted and mirrored again slightly below the source images on opposite computers.

It is here, between YOUR computers, where the interaction with the images takes place. Through a needlessly complex set of GUI software instructions and packets across FTP. In fact, the majority of the time I don't watch this process, I just leave my screencapture program on and let the video roll. Thus, the computer does all of the realtime interpretation of the image across the network. I just parsed the visual record.

Your next step

Do the same. "Hack" ChatRoulette, cheat the game, fix the wheel, reel in the affect. From there, you can divulge all the non-secrets you spied on.

Instructions and Source Code

  1. Download CamTwist on two Mac OS X 10.5/6 computers.
  2. Download customclick.m and compile according to the instructions in the source code (you will need XCode installed). Place the customclick application on both computer desktops.
  3. Download camera.scpt and place on both computer desktops.
  4. Turn on FTP sharing in System Preferences > Sharing > File Sharing. Make sure to click Options and Share FTP. Put the IP number of each computer in the opposite computer's camera.scpt file. Also make sure to fill in each computer's username/password in camera.scpt as well.
  5. Download cahm.html and place on both computer desktops.
  6. Open up CamTwist and select Desktop as your source. Then click Resizable Section and click Select Capture. You will outline the cahm.html window with this selection tool.
  7. Make an empty folder on your desktop called capture.
  8. Open cahm.html up in one window in Firefox and open up ChatRoulette in one Window in Firefox. On the ChatRoulette window, you need to set your webcam to CamTwist (from the camera drop down menu).
  9. Open up camera.scpt on each computer and run the AppleScript. Place your cursor at the top left corner of each ChatRoulette screen.
  10. Enjoy!


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