Smile, You’re on Worldwide Webcam
A streaming video service offers nonstop access to strangers’ personal webcams. Some don’t know they’re being watched, but most simply don’t care.
Illustration by Nick Vokey
A half-dozen puppies pounce, leap and roll, chasing each other around an indoor playroom. A young man in a gray beanie gets digitally fingerprinted by a Boston cop. A Japanese school marching band practices its routine, forming straight lines that break and twist into different formations, then packs up and empties the gymnasium.
A scroll through the site Opentopia offers hundreds of such views from publicly available cameras streaming online — more than 820 in the U.S. alone — silently gazing over public parks, into waiting rooms, on front porches. This antidote to reality television encourages patience and discovery: the subtle thrill of live surveillance footage, of watching while being unseen, brings the power of spying to any viewer with a broadband connection and time on their hands.
Webcam aggregation sites touch on the paradox of data availability — we choose to share much of our lives publicly but often feel uneasy at the thought of being watched. The …