This Light Bulb Is Listening

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 23 2014 6:00 PM

This Light Bulb Is Listening

light_bulb
It looks like a light bulb, but the Conversnitch is listening.

Photo from Conversnitch.

If you’re starting to feel a little paranoid about Internet security and surveillance … this is just going to make it worse. Two artists have created a device called Conversnitch that’s cheap to build, looks like a light bulb or lamp, and tweets quotes from conversations it overhears.

For $100 Kyle McDonald and Brian House can build an inconspicuous recording device that’s Internet-connected for easy tweeting. The conversnitch works anywhere that has wifi—a restaurant, library, or home, for instance—and uses a Raspberry Pi and a microphone (plus some type of clever disguise) to record audio. The artists pay to have the audio transcribed through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform.

Advertisement

McDonald, an adjunct professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, told Wired, “This is stuff you can buy and have running in a few hours. … We recognize that this device can be used in an illegal way, and we will not admit to using it in that way. It has potentially been deployed in various places.”

House and McDonald aim to stir controversy, though, so questions that come up about privacy and legality aren’t so much hindrances as they are the point. Conversnitch is intentionally invasive to stimulate discussion about the controls Americans have over their privacy and the ways that their trust can be violated. It’s time to be vigilant. Trust no lamp.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

The Ludicrous Claims Women Are Pitched at “Egg Freezing Parties”

Behold
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Oct. 1 2014 1:53 PM Slate Superfest East How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 2:15 PM Gateway Episodes: Gilmore Girls
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 12:01 PM Rocky Snow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.