Mapping All The Security Cameras That Are Watching You

You may not be able to control the privacy of your electronic data. But keeping yourself off security cameras? There’s an app for that.

Given the recent NSA revelations, there may not be anything you can do about the government monitoring certain private data (other than abandoning services like Gmail or Skype). But what about the security cameras watching you in cities like New York or London? A new crowdsourcing mapping app called Surv gives city dwellers a way to prepare themselves for that kind of privacy infringement by mapping where those cameras are and what they’re used for.

Currently in private beta-mode for New York (and raising money for a wider release on Kickstarter), the app encourages users to post the locations of security cameras around their cities, along with a description of the camera—whether it’s a traffic camera or a police camera, a dome camera or a shielded one. "We have human eyes on every location that comes in," claims Surv co-foudner Kaza Razat. "One of the reason why we’re still in private beta is that’s a very time consuming thing. We’re working on methods to make that easier."

Razat has developed games in the past, and Surv won’t be without some aspects of gamification, including a leaderboard showing which users have plotted the most cameras and where. "If you map 10 locations, you unlock an invite which then allows you to recruit someone new into the crowd," Razat explains. The idea is to keep the community of users slightly exclusive and self-selecting at first, so that the technology doesn’t get into the hands of trolling types who might create fake postings.

Kazat is not the privacy nut you might expect—he takes a very apolitical approach to his technology. In his words: "We don’t have a side in the debate of privacy versus security, but we did notice that there was a relative lack of technology that could enable either side," be it law enforcement or security advocates.

"In the Boston bombing tragedy, the FBI put out a poll to businesses to see who have cameras," in order to gather information, Razat says. "You would think that the FBI would have tools or software but they actually don’t. They’re just in the early stages of building those tools." Using crowdsourcing, Razat’s plan is to help Surv get there first. And ironically, building a database that’s useful for law enforcement might end up being executed by self-proclaimed privacy advocates.