The Ethics of Soundseeing

I’m listening to Adam Curry’s current Daily Source Code on which he is doing a soundseeing tour of the Waldorf Astoria. He’s talking to folks and recording them but unless I missed something few or none of them know they are being recorded. I have a problem with that. I think it is uncool to engage someone in a conversation you are planning to distribute to tens of thousands of people without their knowledge or consent.

He says he uses his cellphone as cover so that folks don’t give him the stink eye for talking to himself. I think the ethical thing to do in this situation is to use a big ol’ stick mike with a cube on it such that it is obvious that the conversation is being recorded. People that have an issue with it will avoid you and it will be obvious to all that they are being recorded. My main problem is the assymetry of it all. You have a power over the other person and knowledge that they don’t have access to.

Update: I see from the comments that I’m not the only one who felt this way. I in general believe that anyone who is part of your podcast should know that they are and agree to that before you record them. Specifically, Adam talked to someone who is probably recognizable by the details she gave about the job she had landed and where she was at the time. Supposing she said something that was considered untoward by the casting agent and that happened to get back to them, she might lose a job over this. It’s one thing to walk up to interesting people and start conversations. When you are then widely distributing that conversation, you put the person’s well-being at risk and they don’t even know it. That’s a big big problem. If they knew this conversation was on the internet, they would at least be able to be on the proper level of guard for what information they reveal..

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

15 thoughts on “The Ethics of Soundseeing”

  1. Tim Bourquin says:

    Interesting point Dave. I wonder if we’ll see lawmakers get involved here as “regular-folk-produced-content” or whatever you want to call it (podcasting being a subcategory of that) really starts to take off.

  2. Tim Bourquin says:

    Interesting point Dave. I wonder if we’ll see lawmakers get involved here as “regular-folk-produced-content” or whatever you want to call it (podcasting being a subcategory of that) really starts to take off.

  3. Matt May says:

    I just listened to the same podcast, and I get the same vibe.

    Someone I was talking with was saying they wanted to record other people’s conversations in public and produce it as a podcast. Presumably, that’d be completely uninteresting unless they had no idea what was going on. It’s voyeurism of the same class as upskirt photography, really. Just because conversations happen in public doesn’t mean they belong in the public domain.

  4. Jay says:

    Totally agree, Dave. Regardless of the laws, it’s definitely not cool to record someone without their knowledge and then re-broadcast it. Legally, I think anyone doing it would be on thin ice. Shows like Punk’d or the old Candid Camera have to get the people to sign a release agreeing to be on the show. Occasionally you’ll see certain people’s faces smudged out because the producer obviously couldn’t get their permission.

  5. Les Posen says:

    I heard the podcast and couldn’t believe Adam was doing what he was doing. Of course Alan Funt and Candid Camera did this in the 50s, but segments made it to air only after people gave permission for it. In Adam’s case, unless he “debriefed” them and got their permission in writing, he has left himself exposed legally and ethically. He is too experienced an operator to claim naivety.

  6. Sound seeing tours have become all the rage, however folk are running around all over the show, recording everything they can get their hands on (people, pets, etc etc) and apparently a lot of people listen to them.

    Unless recorded people give permission, it’s highly probable no matter where you are, including in public spaces, that it’s illegal. This is why where you see video cameras there are signs warning you that you may be recorded. The same (or very similar laws) exist pretty much where ever you go.

    If folk give permission then bring it on, if they don’t then it’s certainly morally suspect and quite probably legally suspect as well. Not to mention possible law-suit territory.

  7. Dwight says:

    I agree that I had some second thoughts about the elevator podcast.

    Legal?: Law enforcement is always having some wear a “wire” to collect evidence. It must be legal. Broadcasting (for profit or economic gain) might be a legal issue.

    Ethics?: That seems to really be a catch-phrase for opinion.

    Common Sense?: Adam didn’t Podcast anything where the individual could be identified (kind of like blurring the faces) or anything that folks would likely find embarrasing or degrading. I think this is good common sense.

    We all know that Adam test the boundries of podcasting for all of the community. I think this is good for the community and hope he doesn’t get himself into any serious trouble. I like him and his podcasts a lot!

    BTW: How many of us post vacation pictures to the web with other folks in the pictures without their permission? Maybe even shots from nude beaches?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Evil Genius Chronicles – The Ethics of Soundseeing

  9. Mike the listener says:

    I think that Dwight has the most objective view of this issue. My added comments would be this:

    Legally, yes…you must obtain permission from someone to use thier “likeness” in a broadcast. Somehow this fits the mold of audio or radio broadcasting as well.

    However, let’s keep in mind that “legally speaking” this only applies if the “victem” presses charges. In the case of audio, the challenge would be on the “victem” to prove that he or she was hurt by Adams actions. Plus, you would have to prove with out a shadow of a doubt that Adam did in fact record your voice. That alone would be very difficult to prove.

    I don’t particuarly think soundseeing tours are all that engaging. The only one that that I found intreging was when Adam podcasted his interview at the BBC. However in that case, he did tell the show producer that he was recirding the conversation. The context of the interview was also on podcasting so I am sure that is another reason why Adam identified that he was recording.

    The ethics of NOT identifying your recording actions is where most get offended. So I think that is really where everything stands. We won’t know the outcome of some of this until it is challenged in court.

    So Keep on podcasating…conventional radio sucks!

  10. John Hartman says:

    We are entering a world where you are recorded in many ways by many people cameras and video on phones, stop lights, any store you go into and don’t get me started on Vegas. I actually wrote about this in my blog in a posting called “Cyber People”. We have moved beyond the realm of expected privacy and into a world where you should know better. We should use this as a spring board for conversation on public and private spaces. I for one think we definatly need to keep on podcasting.

  11. Dave says:

    Guys, I don’t have the time to respond properly. Just a few things I wanted to get in quickly:

    – I refuse to buy into Dwight’s denial that ethics exist and are merely opinion. That’s kooky talk.

    – I’m not talking at the legal level so much as the “cool and uncool” level, and I think widely distributing a conversation the other person thinks is private could not be more uncool.

    – Being surveiled is not the same as having those tapes made widely available, and being taped interacting in pubic is not the same as engaging someone in a one-on-one conversation that you know is public and they don’t.

    – You know that Adam thinks about this, because the first thing he says when he answers a Skype call during the show is “Dude, you are on the podcast.” Consciously or unconsciously, Adam has created a two-tiered system – friends and peers get to know when the conversation is public but strangers do not get that courtesy.

    More later.

  12. Chris Conly says:

    Dear Evil Genius and listener/readers,

    I am glad someone else had the instinctual repsonse to Adam Curry’s soundseeing tour. I say this with the greatest respect to Adam and to you Dave, as I am an avid listener to your Podcasts, and in general I agree with, and like what it is that you guys do. However, Adam’s SST did catch me off guard, listening on my way home from work!

    Now, if all participants signed releases allowing their likes to be used/distributed then we have a different matter on our hands. But, I believe what Adam does with his SST’s is more off the cuff than that.

    In the end, all Podcasters, I love your shows, but please think a little bit before you distribute!

    Catch you on the flip side.


  13. Dave says:

    Just listening to the Saturday Source Code and I heard Adam cite me and this post as straightening him out a little and he seems to agree that this was an ethical lapse. To me, the whole thing would be different if he had let these people know the score. He said something about letting them know after a few minutes, which is better in that it allows someone to say “edit that shit out!” but still, letting folks know earlier is what I think you need to do, so that they adjust the information they reveal to their comfort level for the wideness of the distribution.

    PS – Chris Conly, how does one listen to your music? Do you have anything online?

  14. Mur says:

    I was going to ask if you’d told Adam this, but I’m glad he saw it. I felt that way during his first tour in Miami Beach when he talked to people and recorded them. Seems a bit unfair. Thanks for bringing this up. If Adam realizes there needs to be some boundaries, it may make all of the others doing it create some.

  15. Author says:

    “A majority of the states and territories have adopted wiretapping statutes based on the federal law, although most also have extended the law to cover in-person conversations.”

    “It also is a crime for someone not present to overhear or record any conversation or discussion without the consent of at least one party to that conversation.”

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