2013-06-17

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.

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4 Comments

  • Jake Witmer

    [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.]

    Then Kazat won't have my help in mapping cameras, because he'll just sell it to law enforcement, which can print the money to pay him. Those who don't take a side in the battle for individual freedom have chosen the side of tyranny by default.  This is just more amoral allowing of technology to be bent to the immoral purposes of the sociopaths in government.

    Besides, Robb E-bright and the Autonomous Zone in Chicago did this years ago. I'd be highly surprised if they don't have the info on their smart phones.  Of course, it makes sense to assume you're always being watched, because you are. If you need to mask your identity, put a mask on with one-way lenses that shield your irises and cover your mouth, and keep altering it as you walk. You should also alter your gait on a regular basis. Thanks to big brother, that's what you currently have to do to have a reasonable shot at avoiding tracking of your position and communications at all times. You also need to have your cell phone in a different physical location, and don't even have it with you for its list of numbers --you need to have those written down in code, so if the authorities get them, they're less useful.

  • Michael

    I agree, this is the first time I have been on the site in months because of annoying adverts and quirks with the site. Shame because the content is good...