TL;DR: This is a large wall of text that explains why I removed the exposed webcam viewer from my site. The short version is: excessive workloads and shoddy journalism. The long version is below.
A little over a month ago, I removed the Exposed Webcam Viewer from this site. Not only that, but I removed all the articles I’d written about it, and effectively scrubbed the cache of it from Google. I did all this pretty much silently, apart from a comment I made from my reddit account in response to concern that I’d either been arrested or otherwise forced to take down the site.
However, it seems that I had far more fans of the Exposed Webcam Viewer that I originally thought, and I’m still getting emails from people asking why it was taken down. Hopefully this short post will put some closure on the whole thing.
There were a multitude of reasons why I took the viewer down. None of them were related to law enforcement or other government agencies forcing my hand (in fact, I haven’t had any contact from a single one). The main reason the site came down was because it was simply too much work to maintain effectively. I know a lot of people appreciated the easy to use interface (despite not being the most aesthetically pleasing), but what most people were unaware of is how much work had to go on behind the scenes.
Firstly, there was the finding of new content. Although at first I used automated scripts to try to find webcams online, these were less successful later on. As a result, a lot of the cameras that I added were found through quite a lot of manual effort.
Secondly, there was the matter of keeping content up to date. Quite often, cameras would go offline when owners either turned them off, or they were otherwise disconnected. Although there were around 9,000 cameras that were shown as online in the viewer, there were almost 40,000 URLs in the database that had to be checked on a regular basis. Again, this was achieved via automated scripts (initially via curl, and later with my own code), but it was still a pain to ensure that these had all run correctly. In addition, at times when the site was under heavy load, almost all the cameras would be knocked offline due to the sheer number of people trying to connect to them. When this happened, I had to wait until the site was less active in order to run the scripts (else a number of webcams that were only temporarily down would be marked as offline erroneously). As you might imagine, this scenario happened quite often as the site became more and more popular.
Thirdly, whilst a lot of people wanted new or improved features for the interface, development is a very slow process, given my standards for secure programming (on the plus side, the application was hardened against pretty much all web based attacks).
Finally, and possibly one of the most important reasons was the general level of abuse I saw. Granted, quite a lot of people were very good at emailing me when they found a camera pointed at a child, or in a bedroom somewhere, and they were of course removed as quickly as possible. However, a number of feeds seemingly slipped through, and the final straw was when a foreign news channel (who shall remain nameless) decided to do a story on the viewer, featuring a feed of someone’s bedroom and linking to the feed on their website. All this was done without any attempt to contact me (either for an interview, or to let me know about the feed). It was a pathetic attempt at journalism; missing the entire point of the viewer (which was to warn people about insecure cameras, not be some kind of tool for voyeurism), and broadcasting an innocent couple in bed. The webcam page was viewed over 75,000 times before I spotted it and took it down.
Suffice to say, after that incident I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, and I decided to shut down the viewer before someone else could do any more damage. No, there aren’t any immediate plans to bring it back up again. I’m quite enjoying all the free time I now have to work on other projects. I won’t say anything definite though; times change, maybe my mind will too. So, watch this space I guess.