Arcade Fire’s Reflektor Video Takes Control of Your Web Cam

... and your phone cam too

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MAGAN CRANE / AFP/Getty Images

This photo shows a webcam on top of a computer at an office in London on June 1, 2011.

This week two music videos for Arcade Fire’s new single Reflektor were released online, after a successful teaser was posted on Spotify a week earlier. In one version the band decided to create an interactive music video in which aspects of the video can be controlled by viewers who have granted the site access to the built-in-camera on their computer and smartphone.

Though some of the effects seem rather hastily conceived, the way one judges the actual effects of the video is ultimately immaterial when the video’s content is placed beside another facet of its presentation—a latent sense of unnerve. During the video, that small green light atop one’s desktop is lit. That means the site has access to your camera, which on its own, is unsettling.

That isn’t to say that Arcade Fire is necessarily using whatever information we unknowingly surrender by granting them access to both our computers and our phones, but according to the Atlantic, Google actually helped make the interactive video, which can only be viewed on its Chrome browser. At the very least, that gives the company access to basic information about which hardware, operating system and software we are using to view the video.

Some of these concerns were raised in a recent lawsuit filed against Google, which cited Gmail’s personalized advertisements. Google’s response to these accusations was to announce that “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.” Google has also found a way to access nearly every Wi-Fi password. So while Arcade fire may not have a hand in it, Google — it isn’t hard to imagine — is probably somewhat excited about the opportunity.

To sit and watch the video, the green camera light still luminescing over our sense of self-awareness, means that for several minutes, in theory at least, everything we do is being recorded. How can one be certain that a phone is disconnected from the system after the video ends? What if one were to pick one’s nose or drool on a shirt, or fill out a tax form, or fondle a secret office crush — would that be logged too?

Perhaps the fuss over the security of our own data, and the idea that privacy seems to have been only a theoretical promise—an easily perverted veil—doesn’t stem from the notion that we are necessarily in danger of having our secrets collected, examined and exposed, but rather that our sense of entitlement over what we once considered ours has been swiftly confiscated and detained indefinitely. Can we even call it our data anymore, when in order to toy around with an interactive music video we have to surrender our iPhones?

In short, it was perhaps unwise to release a video that requires logging on so completely after it was revealed that using certain buzzwords enough times means that those naked photos you sent via Gmail one drunken Christmas years ago, or that email about making a power play against your boss, will perhaps be examined by a NSA sysadmin (90% of whom have been fired to prevent any Snowden-level leaks). It won’t actually happen to you, but you still don’t like the idea that it could.

Though there may be nothing to fear except targeted Google ads in places we never anticipated finding them, the number of times a viewer must click “allow” in order to participate in Arcade Fire’s newest video experiment triggers a newly-instinctual series of fears that are difficult to shake. In short, these apprehensions are baseless and should be ignored—but we can hardly say the same of the very circumstances that ultimately left us with these fears in the first place.

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