Urban surveillance as a game?

Snitches and snoops wanted: Internet Eyes is a new "game" where the public is invited to watch thousands of CCTV cameras for criminal activity. The most successful crimespotters can win cash prizes. The site will also feature a rogues gallery of alleged perpetrators. The service launches next month in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. It's free to watch the cameras and £20 a week to have your CCTV up for monitoring. From the Internet Eyes site (image above from Wikimedia Commons):
Eeyeyeyeyeys The locations of the feeds are not disclosed and Viewers reporting remain anonymous. Viewers can earn money by detecting an event that matches the above scenarios. The Viewers notification is sent to an SMS device of the owner of the video feed. The owner of the video feed is known as a Customer. The customer will also get a screenshot sent to their Customer Control Panel. As a Viewer you'll need to be quick if you're certain of activity as there maybe other Viewers watching the same video feeds. Only the first notification gets through. Internet Eyes
From the Daily Mail:
(Company founder) Tony Morgan, a former restaurant owner, said it would give local businesses protection against petty criminals, and act as a deterrent once 'Internet Eyes patrol here' signs are prominently displayed...

'There are over four million CCTV cameras in the UK and only one in a thousand gets watched, (he said). 

'Crimes are bound to get missed but this way people the cameras will be watched by lots of people 24-hours-a-day.

'It gives people something better to do than watching Big Brother when everyone is asleep.

'We've had a lot of interest from local businesses and hope to roll it out nationwide and then worldwide.'

Internet game that awards points for people spotting real crimes on CCTV is branded 'snooper's paradise'

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  1. “Players collect points by watching the cameras, which show CCTV images in real-time, and click a button every time they see something suspicious taking place.”

    So you get points for reporting things that “seem suspicious”. Then what happens? How long does it take for your click to be vetted? Is the store owner or local authorities alerted immediately? Do they respond simply because you flagged something?

    It says you lose a point for flagging something wrong, and then later says you get banned if you flag more than three things wrong – which wouldn’t make much sense, since if you’re watching a whole lot and “flagging” constantly, you’re bound to eventually get more than 3 false alarms. So I’m guessing they just mean a new player with 0 points can’t go less than -3 without being banned.

    First of all, why not just create a new account at a new IP when banned? Second, why not, as Brainspore alludes to, report some staged stuff to build up your score, and then flag random crap for a laugh?

    I predict this system, if it actually does anything, will be great fun for pranksters and channers looking to cause some harmless chaos.

  2. ‘It gives people something better to do than watching Big Brother when everyone is asleep.

    Why watch Big Brother when you can BE Big Brother?

    Actually, this sort of reminds me of “Fahrenheit 451” when everyone is asked to stand on their porch to look and listen for the fugitive Montag.

  3. “The locations of the feeds are not disclosed”

    You mean like the location of the Domino’s in that gross out video wasn’t disclosed?

  4. @zikzak: they only give a Viewer 3 free alerts per month. Additional alerts cost 1GBP each. So you can’t just sit at your computer flagging away.

    Of course the flipside of this is that if it turns out there actually are things worthy of flagging, you can get into competitions with other Viewers where you’re spending money to try to beat them to the 1000GBP monthly prize.

    Seems like a bad deal for the Viewers.

  5. For the Viewers:
    3 free flags per month, pay for more
    Results-oriented points system
    Hours wasted looking for something
    £1000 reward for the one with the most points for the month — everyone else gets nothing

    For the Customers:
    £20 per camera per month
    chance that no one is watching
    time spent evaluating flags by viewers trolling for points
    slim chance that it helps (it could)

    Hmmm, looks like a money extraction tool of minimal benefit to the participants, with the possible exception of disturbed busybodies. I predict the most frequently flagged behavior will be nonconformist dress.

  6. Start “Pederast Internet Eyes Enthusiasts”. Send press release. Watch nanny-state implode upon itself.

  7. Santa’s Knee here (login is borked):

    “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

    — 1984

  8. Same problem as all CCTV surveillance systems, “wow I flagged some one breaking your shop window” means you will have a broken shop window and most likely, no suspect.

  9. Reminds me of that Red Dwarf episode…
    “Be a Government Informer! Betray Your Family & Friends, Fabulous Prizes to be Won”

    Except this is real o_O

  10. I do not understand how the idea of people policing people (as opposed to police policing people) is a bad thing? Our culture and society is full of concepts like juries of peers, peer pressure, social consciousness and so forth.

    Why can’t this be used as a tool to advance these positive people-centric approaches?

    And honestly, why can’t these systems be used to report abusers of the system. See a cop double park to run in and get a donut? Report ’em. See someone illegally dumping garbage somewhere? Report ’em.

    Anything wrong with that?

    1. @anonymous- Report the police? Really? It’s an anonymous reporting system, there would be no way for you to followup and see if the offending cop was ever punished (and really, is look-out duty for double parkers (cops or civilians) really worthy of your time?

  11. @anonymous- “I do not understand how the idea of people policing people (as opposed to police policing people) is a bad thing?”

    Possibly because, when it comes down to it, most of us like to violate the law just a little bit now and again. Possibly this is due to the fairly large number of laws in most societies now, and partially just due to preferring a more flexible approach to law than an absolute one– treating it as good guidelines rather than an inflexible code.

  12. There was a comic (coughgraphicnovelcough) a few years ago where the military peppered the landscape of Afghanistan with little observer-bots. People could log in to random ones and to a little freelance surveillance and help track down terrorists. I remember discussion at the time that this was a brilliant way to catch Bin Laden & co.

    Anyone remember what it was called?

  13. Viadd wrote:
    “CCTV cameras that show crimes being committed? In the US, we call it C-SPAN.”

    LOL. Props.

  14. I wrote about opening up the camera network like this back in 2001, inspired by a David Gelernter book (Mirror Worlds which was all kinds of prescient) that I’d read about 8 years before that.


    “Perhaps some of these problems could be tackled by placing the responsibility for local security in the hands of the people who have to live there. Picture-in-picture and motion detection technologies are already well established – might not the two be combined to allow homeowners and tenants to look after their own streets and buildings? Might this possibility also deter potential burglars and muggers, if they know that the response to their trespassing or attacks will be immediate? At the moment, there is a chain of response that runs from isolated cameras, to centralised control rooms and then to police headquarters and on to officers in the area who are ordered to respond. The criminals know and depend on this inherent delay in current CCTV systems.

    Many other applications and benefits of having total video coverage of an urban area come to mind. Defence against bombers is a pressing need in London. The city has been the target of dozens of attacks over the last two or three decades. It would be much easier to trace and track bombers with such a system, and efforts to do so would surely benefit from the combined efforts of the security services and the many private citizens who might contribute their own observations – this would be something like massively parallel criminal investigation, cooperative sleuthing. Police brutality would also be harder to get away with if it was known that dozens of independent witnesses might be watching. At present, it’s all too easy for vital footage to go missing from the archives.”

    Crowdsnooping, crowdtecting. A similar but smaller scale scheme ran in Shoreditch, London for a while around 2006

  15. Global Neighbourhood Watch, by Neal Stephenson, in Wired Issue 1.08 – December 1995:

  16. Holy heck, I’m just six miles away from Stratford-Upon-Avon! Hmm, and next month, my film is in a festival there… any ideas? Surely there must be some mischief to be made!

    1. Sundog, I’m about the same distance away. When’s your film? Happy to explore amusement possiblities!

  17. Step by step we walk a definate direction. But people only take it step by step justifying their movement based on previous steps. We are definately heading somewhere but it doesnt matter where as long as we satisfy our addiction to walking.

    Futuretron Infinity

  18. Hm.. I might sign up, and take my laptop and sit in front of a cctv camera so I can be the watcher AND the watched. Ooh… infinite regression. Yay!

  19. so if you steal from a shop wearing a hoody so your face isnt seen, then report yourself and repeat this for a month you can get all the stolen goods, plus a £1000 bonus. sounds like a great system. loads more fun than watching big brother.
    thats what i call viewer participation

  20. Wouldn’t it be easier to just make all the cameras stream and record everything to ustream or something similar, then everybody could watch them and “suspicious” behaviour could be found and the most popular cameras would also be revealed.

    I guess the criminals would also get equal opportunity to check their favourite spot for viewers before they committed their crimes.

    I have an expensive bike, and I’m considering pointing a camera at it while it’s parked in the back yard, I’d make the feed available online, and if the bike were to be stolen, I’d at least have a good look at the guys. Combine it of course with a video camera that detects movement and you won’t see anything boring, and you could also have it alert you if movement was spottet so you could act fast or call neighbour to scare away stupid bike thiefs. (I’m pissed about the fact that bike theft is the crime with the lowest priority here in Denmark)

    Combine this with the biggest motercycle lock you can find, a GPS tracker with a large extra battery and you’ve got yourself a much more theft proof bike!

  21. So do they think lonely souls out there will be breathlessly glued to their computers hoping to make money? Seems you’d have better luck playing the lottery: you don’t know where the CCTVs are actually monitoring, otherwise you could pick one in a high crime area and cash in regularly, but if it’s on a corner near a police station how would you even know? You’d spend hours looking and looking and nothing would happen.

  22. Google “Tenderloin webcam”; a similar game ended really quickly when the cam operator received death threats. But while it was going the live chat room was quite surreal. I remember lots of racist comments when I logged in at 3am as a regular perpetrator was out casing cars to break into. The same people who can’t sleep because their guns are under their pillows are the ones who would be the viewers.

  23. Sounds like they’re getting the general public to do their security monitoring for free. And I *know* it’s worth at least $10 an hour. No thanks.

    1. “Sounds like they’re getting the general public to do their security monitoring for free.”

      That’s not how I read some of these comments. They’re getting the general public to *PAY* to report.

  24. How much exactly is Britain paying these days in royalties to the science fiction writers which dystopian ideas they are using?

    Or, should I interpret this as if science fiction becomes real, it no longer is fiction, and so the writer must re-label his/her work?

  25. It’s an interesting spin on sousveillance, no? Civlib advocates could watch the cameras and report naughty police. :)

  26. So what good will this do ??
    People will just use this new form of public surveillance to pull pranks, meaning more phony 911 calls…
    what about security guards? and the police?

    Cameras like these are becoming more and more popular.. take Google Street View for example… eventually everyone will know what everyone else is doing around the world.

  27. Oh yea. Major abuse. Like how lots of social websites have peer review and “report this post” options. Facebook is so clueless, the concept is incredibly foolish and never could be tailored to work in real life. Ever.

  28. The business model should be sound: basically, you pay volunteers to do a minimal wage job; it could barely work like Amazon turk does, but they have a better angle for several reasons:

    – it’s vigilante wanna-bes (and elderly people);

    – prizes motivate people beyond their actual gain;

    – the pay & incentivize scheme selects the most skilled people (and gets rid of all the nasty hackers from Boing-Boing);

    – if you distribute the cash-prize well enough, they’ll have friends who got their time-worth soon enough to keep up if they are commited.

    Provided they use modern motion filters and validate misbehaviours based on the same crowdsourced system, they should be OK.

    What I don’t think would work is the anonimity: both hackers and vigilante wannabees will be interested in locating the cameras; shape-recognition software used by enough enough users will easily go around the random-based anonymity.

  29. Let’s see: The computer chooses a camera at random where something is moving or changing, then you decide if it is a crime or just normal activity, like say two dogs tieing the knot. Then you push the button if it seems to be a crime and the last four or five minutes from the camera previous to the crime are frozen for evidence and a dispatcher views what you saw and sends a squad car if (s)he agrees.
    I once considered the idea of ARGUS (the fabled Greek watchman of a thousand eyes) a TV screen computer display where you had 1000 thumbnail videos from as many cameras and could click on and enlarge any one for closer examination.
    My best idea was to have store cameras and computers spot the quick “Is anyone watching?” move of a shoplifter and have the store P.A. announce “Shoplifter, Isle six.” The shoplifter would need a change of underware. (“Cleanup, Isle six.”)

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