Today in the public library of quaint suburb of an old American city, images of blissful toddlers were being live streamed to the internet. Parents unwittingly wandered in and out of the shot. Librarians played along politely while trying to work. The cameraman’s friend plastered on a nervous smile and ducked away as much as possible. Men from Great Britain, Australia, and the U.S.A came to watch and to send chat messages to the cameraman in real time. This went on, unnoticed and unsuspected, for 13 minutes.
Why did no-one notice? Because the cameraman wasn’t hoisting a large news camera and microphone boom on a shoulder. The camera being used was smaller than a pack of Twinkies. If people noticed, they assumed the finicky shooter was taking multiple still shots but never managed to make the flash work. Perhaps they thought the cameraman was acting a bit odd talking to the camera at times, but no-one protested, nor was any the wiser.
I was the cameraman. The camera was a Nokia N95, an advanced mini computer, phone and video camera capable of sending live video to websites. It fits in the palm of my hand, yet the video is broadcast-news level quality. Anyone with about $700 to spend can have one. Perhaps if the cameraman was indeed a male, suspicions would arise more easily, but I am as non-threatening as a woman could be, and no-one even thought to notice my actions.
My local public library installed free wifi. I live streamed with it today, using a Nokia N95 and a website/application called Qik. My toddler son and I were in the (mostly vacant) children’s room with my good friend Cathy and her son, as well as the head children’s librarian. “I’m live streaming to the internet right now” was the only ‘warning’ I offered. Not much of a warning at all, of course, because their images were already sent, and were continuing to be sent to qik.com for anyone to see.
I am an ‘early adopter;’ I am eager to test out new technologies like smart phones and laptops, as well as new applications like software and websites. The inevitable bugs and bumps in the start-up road don’t usually bother me. It’s fun and thrilling to watch a tech phenomenon develop, a pursuit I enjoyed at an early age when my brother was a pre-teen hacker back in the late 1970’s.
My stream had no point except to show us passing time at the library. A few of my on-line friends showed up to the chat room, as well as a stranger from half way around the world. It was all purely innocent in intention, I assure you. After I returned home, the unease settled in.
When my son was tucked safely away for his nap, I posted an Utterz discussing how I felt that I was being a bit aggressive by live streaming without prior consent from the characters in the video. I didn’t talk about the hint of nervousness on my friend’s face or how the librarian said that she was ‘freaked out’ by seeing me shoot her while seeing her real-time image on a website, but those things were on my mind when I posted. I feel like I owe them an apology.
How do I avoid this in the future? How can I avoid that “I streamed you even though you didn’t consent” regret I felt today? How do I stream ethically in order to protect community members and myself?
Looking for suggestions, I recorded an Utterz and turned the question to Twitter. Here are some responses (which, again, I’m printing without permission, assuming that it’s kosher to do so):
Pishba (Patty Hartwell) continued the conversation via email:
As for little cameras like the N95 that is exactly my point — people have no idea what is actually happening with that little gadget which is why if I had one I’d feel obligated to mention it was live streaming –
Agreed – who wants to piss off their friends, community with something like this — especially since it means they will be much less likely to cotton to live streaming in the future if they feel they have been burned in some way.
Not to mention what it does to your friendship.
ScottSys, replied in Utterz:
Unless you are live streaming in a bathroom with someone, the only thing you risk is boring people to death. There is no expectation of privacy in public and you can record all you want. If on the other hand you specifically record someone else engaged in a conversation they think is private, you need to bone up on your wiretapping laws. News channels do not get a release from everyone.
Michael Bayer replied on Utterz:
Excellent question you raise.
My personal (non legally informed) opinion is that any time you put someone else in the picture, you should ask their permission – particularly if it’s going to be broadcast. Forget the Borat-like issues (were they drunk? were they misled?)…I think it’s just good manners to let someone know what’s going to happen with their image and thoughts. Of course, a video stream (live or recorded) allows you to document the approval, but who wants the question right in their video?
We’ll have to let the courts decide on this one…probably too early to be well tested yet.
Any lawyers out there that want to weigh in on this one?
We are all basically saying here is that it is rude to tape someone in a spy-like manner. Little cameras like the N95 are harder to spot than traditional, shoulder-rest cameras. I liked @bear’s suggestion of wearing some kind of sign, a hat or something, but that won’t be adopted by many end-users as the technology spreads. In 20 years, it will be a non-issue, sure. But we as early adopters have an obligation at the ‘get-go’ to start things off ethically, to set up a tradition of respect.
First we need to start with education. So, a task item, for you dear reader is: Please explain to someone today, if you can, what live streaming is. That’s it. Task item for me: Think up scripts that don’t sound dorky that give fair notice of streaming. Perhaps make business cards that say “you’ve just been streamed, please visit www.thesitenamehere.com/username to see your video” and find a way to hand them out gracefully.
Any other tasks? Comments? Thanks to all who responded to me today!