The Vessel's Terms and Conditions Bend to Public Pressure
Mar 21, 2019

New Yorkers are rightly concerned about surveillance in Hudson Yards, the neighborhood (if one can call it that) of gleaming steel-and-glass towers under construction on Manhattan's west side. As the Real Deal puts it: Hudson Yards: Smart City or Surveillance City? (Update - see also Sidewalk Labs is under pressure to explain its smart city dream (Engadget, April 5).)

One of the most striking elements in Hudson Yards is The Vessel, which NYT's Michael Kimmelman called "a 150-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere."

Then came the surveillance concerns, as people discovered the "terms & conditions" language online for anyone visiting The Vessel.

• Tom Gara, from BuzzFeed News, posted on March 18: "If you simply *appear* in a photo taken at the Vessel staircase-to-nowhere thing at Hudson Yards, they have the right to use your name, likeness, voice, and all other aspects of your person for any commercial purpose they wish, forever" - then links to the Vessel's terms & conditions.

• Then Scott Bixby, from The Daily Beast, posted: "The Vessel at Hudson Yards, a $200 million staircase that doesn't actually take you anywhere, owns every photo you take inside it."

Gothamist also covered it.

Within a day, Hudson Yards responded by changing the terms of conditions. From the NYT, March 19:

In its terms of service, which are not posted on the property but are available online, Hudson Yards said that it had the right to use any picture taken in the vicinity of the art installation for commercial purposes, with no royalty fees and no restrictions, forever.
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Now visitors "retain ownership of any photographs, text, audio recordings or video footage depicting or relating to the Vessel" that they create.
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But you still "hereby grant to Company and its affiliates the right to repost, share, publish, promote and distribute the Vessel Media via such social media channel and via websites associated with the Vessel or Hudson Yards (including my name, voice and likeness and any other aspects of my persona as depicted in the Vessel Media), in perpetuity."

Public pressure was vital in this case. What would have happened if Gara, Bixby, and the Gothamist hadn't written about the terms and conditions document?

And what other surveillance practices in Hudson Yards haven't been unearthed yet?

Updates: See also...

Kate Wagner reviews the Vessel, coining the term "malevolent shwarma" (The Baffler, March 21): "What is done with this footage can only be suspected, but it doesn't stop our malevolent shawarma from serving as a convenient, yes, architectural vessel - not only for affective labor but also the dystopian world-building of surveillance capitalism itself."

Feargus O'Sullivan reviews the Vessel (CityLab, March 19): it's a "mammoth climbing-frame-cum-corncob." It's a "spinning meatloaf-cone."

Kyle Smith reviews the Vessel (National Review, March 21): a "civic sieve," "the Wastebasket," "a 154-flight StairMonster," "a drafty pine cone," "history's largest paperweight," and "the monument version of our tall but pointless mayor." Bonus: "It looks like an unfortunate misshapen thing produced by your ten-year-old at summer camp, except it cost $200 million."

Why everyone hates the Vessel (Fast Company, March 29): "Meat Tornado," "The Hudson Yards Copyright Assignment Provision Clause," and "UnitedHealth Group Vessel brought to you by Papa John's dot Com Bowl."

• From New York magazine's Jerry Saltz (April 5): "The Shawarma & quilted Channel Handbag at the corporate mega-monstrosity Hudson Yards."



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