With more and more people venturing out, some safely and others not so much, I just want to offer a way to keep tabs on regional herd behavior beyond social media, and without having to leave your couch.
This post is not for Fourth Amendment advocates or longtime surveillance researchers. Nor is it for stalkers, spies, or anyone who works in law enforcement.
All those people are aware that there are thousands of public cameras that are accessible online. But from some recent conversations I have had with friends, readers, and family members, it seems that this is hardly common knowledge. I think it’s because despite the fact that we are all being perpetually spied on in some way or another—primarily, of course, through devices in our hands, pockets, and laps—most people just don’t want to believe it.
I’m not here to shame them, or anyone else for that matter. I’m not mad at all that people are going to house parties and increasingly venturing out of their homes helping spur an inevitable subsequent surge. Oh, no, I’m not the least bit aggravated by the photo making the rounds on social media of a small herd of dunces on a beach (that appears to be) in Dorchester drinking beer under a rattlesnake flag. The purpose of this post isn’t even to comment on a proposed facial recognition technology ban in the City of Boston, though I will weigh in on that soon.
With more and more people venturing out, some safely and others not so much, I just want to offer a way to keep tabs on regional herd behavior beyond social media, and without having to leave your couch. To that end, I have included some basic information on and links to cameras anyone can access. Lot of responsible people are still staying home for the most part, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to check out the world beyond their yard or building at any time.
Now that you know such camera feeds exist, the easiest thing you can do is just google for terms like “surveillance cameras,” “IP video,” and “live feeds” along with the city or even the neighborhood you wish to surveil. I linked to several active feeds below, but I guarantee that if you come back to this post in a few months, half of the links will be dead. That just tends to be how it works in the world of creepy cameras.
In any case, while I’m no expert on the topic, I have been fascinated with live feeds and apps for years, and in my experience they tend to fall into one or more of three categories:
Government feeds. These can be state, city, or federally operated. Mostly, you’re going to find traffic cameras like these from the Mass Department of Transportation. If you’re the kind of person who likes watching cars pass by, there are enough live feeds of I-93 (and every other major highway) to keep you streaming for days.
Random/unsecure feeds. There are lots of places to find strange, often anonymous (though the city in which a camera is located is often listed) feeds, but none quite as robust as the Insecam project, which boasts “the world biggest directory of online surveillance security cameras,” where you can “watch live street, traffic, parking, office, road, beach, earth online webcams … and a lot of other network video cams available online without a password.”
Vanity feeds. Anything beyond the first two could fit in this category, but generally speaking these are cameras that people or organizations put up because they want people to watch them. Sort of like how a zoo might place one in the cage of a popular animal.
Putting this knowledge to use, let’s say that you want to glimpse a cross section of life in Massachusetts to survey how many people are venturing out on a nice afternoon during the pandemic. You can check out this open-air apartment complex in Worcester, and then tune in to this view of Boston Medical Center.
For foot traffic, you can spy these stone walkways, which I think are either in Faneuil Hall, Charlestown, or perhaps Davis Square? Then click over to see if there’s any action around Northeastern University.
Many feeds are fairly useless like this parking lot tagged “Cambridge” (the labels and coordinates are rarely specific and often incorrect), but if you look around a little more you can also find revealing angles like this amazing view from Martin’s Park next to the Fort Point Channel in Boston.
I am personally a big fan of the Boston Webcam, which streams nonstop on YouTube and always seems to have at least five-to-seven people watching. My guess is there are a couple of offices or perhaps even homes that have screens which stream it ’round the clock. Come to think of it, as long as we’re spending more time at home, that sounds like a decent way to stay connected.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.