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The State of Where are the Eyes

Someone recently wrote asking what happened to Where are the Eyes, and whether the project should be considered abandoned. We’re long overdue for a public update about the state of the project.

Yes, Where are the Eyes has been mothballed. I’m still alive and have kept the server up and running so that the app still functions, but I’ve moved on to other projects and am no longer maintaining or adding features to the iOS or Android WhereAreTheEyes apps. Some reasoning below.

What were the problems with Where are the Eyes?

Consumer location accuracy is low, especially on foot next to buildings, especially on cheaper Android devices. Therefore, the precision of camera locations on the map varies widely, from accurate-to-the-meter to an-entire-street-off. This means Where are the Eyes works great as a social statement, “hey, look how many cameras are around you all the time!” but doesn’t work for more fine-tuned purposes like “navigate a path from point A to point B while avoiding as much surveillance as possible.” This could be fixed with some UI for letting the user select where to put the camera near them on the map, but it’s a fair bit of work to implement, and a lot of work to make that user experience elegant and natural to use. Also, we would have needed to implement the navigation system entirely by ourselves, which was way out of scope for this project.

The user base for Where are the Eyes has always been small, limiting the project’s impact. I love this project, and have gotten a lot of great feedback about it over the years. To really maximize its impact though, the data should be integrated into larger projects with more users. The obvious choice is adding our camera data into OpenStreetMap. Unfortunately, the OpenStreetMap team was very resistant to the idea. They want all data to be submitted to OSM directly by users, so each WhereAreTheEyes user would need an OSM account, and the WhereAreTheEyes app would add the camera data to OSM on their behalf. They would not allow us to submit the camera data from the Eyes server using a single OSM account for the project. This means every user would have to de-anonymize themselves and have their OSM username associated with every camera they’ve marked - an idea that’s unappealing to many counter-surveillance people.

Given the above two concerns, it felt like the project had hit a wall. We could work on smaller features (bug fixes, a heatmap of camera density, some gamification of camera-marking), but nothing that would fundamentally address the two big limitations of the tool.

Are there any plans for reviving Where are the Eyes development or combining it with other efforts?

No plans for revival. The data is all public if it can be used for a good cause. For a while the people behind Ghost Me, a similar project, expressed interest in inheriting this infrastructure to help jump-start some of their work, but it never came to fruition.

What would it take to continue development?

At this point if you wanted to write a next release of Where are the Eyes you’d be best off taking the general structure and writing a new app largely from scratch. The Android APIs have grown and changed a ton since 2017, making this code beyond antiquated. Apple doesn’t even recommend writing apps in Objective-C anymore, and it could be re-implemented better in Swift. It was never great code to begin with: I started working on Where are the Eyes when I was a Sophomore in college, and I was learning mobile app development as I went. Someone more experienced could do a much better job.

Final Statistics

10213 cameras and counting, marked by 2336 users. Thank you all.

Posted 2/17/21

A New Decade of Countersurveillance

Hello world! Where are the Eyes is still chugging along in 2020!

Latest stats:

  • 8031 Cameras

  • 2336 Users

Thanks for sticking with us all this time.

Posted 1/16/20

Amazon Sells Facial Recognition Software to Law Enforcement, ICE

Amazon, a leading researcher in big data analysis, has sold their facial recognition service, Amazon Web Services Rekognition, to U.S. law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

While it is not clear whether Amazon’s infrastructure is deployed at the Mexican border family separation sites, it is being used to aid the agency. Amazon employees are protesting internally, and wrote a collective letter to CEO Jeff Bezos demanding an end to Amazon’s ICE contract:

This will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized

Additional coverage by CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Map statistics:

  • 6524 Cameras

  • 2336 Users

Posted 7/2/18

Blinding the Eyes

We’re busy working on the next Eyes release, aiming to have it more feature packed and faster than ever. Had to take this break to share an article contributed by one of you, though!

WikiHow has a piece on 3 Ways to Blind a Surveillance Camera, with some pretty humorous imagery. Their suggestions focus on using lasers and flashlights to overwhelm cameras as you pass, so they are unable to gather details about your face. Keep in mind that jamming cameras with malicious intent is likely illegal in your country, as is causing any permanent damage.

As an alternative, consider taking steps to fool facial-recognition software, or even prevent facial identification altogether. There are several lists of clothing and technology that can help reduce the chance of being identified by cameras.

Of course, the best defense from surveillance is to avoid surveillance technology altogether. Keep your head down, your face obscured, and follow the map.

Some updated statistics:

  • 5024 Cameras
  • 2028 Users

That’s 60 new users and over a hundred new cameras in under a month!

Posted 7/19/17

Version 1.3.0 Released

There is a new release today for all platforms! It includes many UI improvements and bug fixes, and new map themes for iOS and Android. Counter-surveillance has never looked this good.

We are already hard at work on the next release, which will be more feature-filled, including improvements to the GPS-inaccuracy problem that didn’t quite make it in to today’s release.

For those of you in the United States, happy Fourth of July! This is our contribution to patriotism and freedom.

Current statistics:

  • 4916 Cameras Marked
  • 1968 Users Registered

Mark on.

Posted 7/4/17

New Propaganda

We’ve received some new propaganda from an anonymous benefactor, and have built a new image gallery on the media page to accommodate it. Woohoo!

At the same time we updated the website code on GitHub, which was missing the last update or two.

We would love more artwork and propaganda from all of you! If you have anything you’d like to share, please send it to and tell us whether you would prefer to remain anonymous.

Posted 3/16/17

Version 1.2.1 Released

Today we’ve released an update for Android and iOS, fixing several longstanding bugs and adding translations for two new languages. Chief among these bugs, the Android client will no longer poll for location data while in the background (saving considerable battery life), and the iOS client no longer throws away all camera data when a network connection is interrupted. The update also includes an assortment of UI improvements and minor bug fixes.

It may take some time for the update to propagate through the App, Play, and F-Droid stores, but it should be available to everyone in the next day or two.

An update on the map growth:

  • 3977 cameras marked
  • 1289 users registered

We’re thrilled with the progress everyone is making, and hope to contribute more regular updates to the software soon. We believe Where are the Eyes is more important now than ever, and our highest software priority remains integrating with OpenStreetMap to unify with other surveillance activism groups.

Hello to all our Spanish and Japanese-speaking users!

Posted 3/15/17

2K Camera Update!

Development of Where are the Eyes has slowed recently for a number of reasons, including releasing our second Daylighting Society project. The community, however, is as active as ever.

The map has grown to a tremendous 2331 cameras, which is an incredible feat for our roughly hundred users.

In the coming weeks we plan on more closely integrating Where are the Eyes and OpenStreetMap, sharing our data to support other surveillance maps. With this out of the way we can join forces and promote our projects simultanously, usurping the new world order!

Posted 12/19/16

F-Droid Launch

Greetings to all our privacy-minded Android users! As of today, we are proud to announce Where are the Eyes is available on the F-Droid store!

For those of you unfamiliar, F-Droid is an alternative to the Google Play store that accepts only open-source applications that don’t do evil things. We are happy to accommodate our security focused friends.

Posted 11/17/16

Better Than Ever

Today we are proud to release version 1.2 for our Android and iOS Where are the Eyes clients.

New features:

  • Users can remove any cameras they have marked, allowing anyone to “undo” their mistakes

  • Haptic feedback to make it obvious when the app is processing a newly marked camera

  • Satellite map (can be toggled in settings)

  • Significant UI improvements (Primarily on Android)

  • Made it much easier to disable Mapbox Metrics

Bug fixes:

  • Preferences work correctly now (iOS)

  • Fixed an Android crash bug related to removing resources on a background thread

The map has grown to encompass 961 cameras across five continents, all in only a couple of weeks. We are very excited to grow further, and work more closely both with OpenStreetMap and other surveillance activist groups.

Posted 11/11/16

48 Hour Update

We’ve had an excellent first two days! Good discussions on Reddit, lots of valuable questions by email and on GitHub, and some unexpected coverage on Hacker News. We now have 121 registered users, who have marked 256 cameras.

This is a good moment to clarify some things:

Can I download the raw map data?

Yes. It is available at /rawdata, and is linked to near the top of the site.

Is the database proprietary?

Absolutely not. This is public information, and we have released it under the Creative Commons CC0 Universal license, making it as close to public domain as we can legally get.

Is the data stored in OpenStreetMap?

No. We use OpenStreetMap to get all of our geographic information, but we do not store our camera data as part of OSM. This is to protect the integrity of OpenStreetMap: If someone scripts interaction with Where are the Eyes and posts cameras everywhere we don’t want to blanket OSM in incorrect data. It is much easier to roll back malicious changes while the camera data is under our direct control.

Will you be sharing your camera data with OpenStreetMap?

Of course! We would be thrilled to get the existing cameras from OSM added to Where are the Eyes, and to add our camera data to their map. OpenStreetMap is a fantastic project, and we hope both can grow from each other. We are only concerned with fully integrating the two maps, and are happy to synchronize the data between them periodically.

Thank you all for your support. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. If you are asking “how can I help?” then please tell others about this project! The more people that use Where are the Eyes, the better a tool it becomes.

Posted 10/25/16

Where are the Eyes fully released!

Today we are proud to announce that Where are the Eyes is available on the App Store and Play Store internationally! In the ideals of transparency and community we have also published the code for the world to see. We hope this will be the start of a new chapter in fighting blanket surveillance.

To all our new visitors, welcome! Please download the app and help us spread awareness of the surveillance state we live in.

Do you have any feedback about our project? Write to us!

Posted 10/23/16

“Transparency’s in the eye of the beholder”

The beholder, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Kerr Putney, has a lot of eyes. His department boasts they have access to more than 1200 cameras across the city that they are using to monitor demonstration activity. The “demonstration” is a protest of the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. Police claim Scott was armed with a gun, but refuse to release their video footage of the shooting for verification. Protestors hold that Scott was holding a book, and was no threat to the officers.

North Carolina has declared a state of emergency. Since the start of the protest police have enforced a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew, called in the National Guard, and engaged the protestors with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and flash-bang grenades. Protestors have retaliated by throwing rocks and debris in some instances.

Update: here is a gallery of images from the ground, with citizen coverage of the protest.

Posted 9/23/16

Eyes in the Sky

Street mounted cameras aren’t the only means of physical surveillance. The Baltimore Police have employed a private company to record a 32-mile radius chunk of the city by plane. Its creator describes it as “Google Earth with TiVo capacity.”

The program is similar to NSA data collection in that a vast amount of information is gathered, but they promise not to look unless they get a suspect later.

Further coverage by Bloomberg, RT, and the local Baltimore Sun.

Posted 8/25/16

Android Launch!

We are proud to announce that Where are the Eyes has launched on the Google Play Store!

This is an auspicious time to unveil an anti-surveillance tool: Only days before the epically surveilled Rio Olympics, and immediately before one of the world’s largest computer security conferences.

We hope this is one step in a growing trend against mass surveillance. Last month marked the first time evidence has been thrown out for warrantless use of a stingray. As the Internet of Things grows so does our awareness of potential for physical security attacks, and with Where are the Eyes we broaden focus to include physical surveillance.

Let’s get started.

Posted 8/2/16