Man from Varese “spies” on shops for a hobby, and foils an attempt to shoplift
This is the strange story of Alessio Gila, an employee of Varese Province, who checks security cameras on the Web, on the website Internet Eyes
Alessio Gila, 37, from Varese, works in the Provincial Council offices. In the evening and at weekends, like many people, he spends a few minutes surfing the Internet. But unlike others, Alessio does not visit websites like Facebook or YouTube. No, he prefers to watch the images of security cameras, which are broadcast live by small suburban shops in the United Kingdom. A few weeks ago, this decidedly unusual hobby enabled him to foil a minor attempt at shoplifting and to inform the shopkeeper, from so far away, as it was happening. A British youth was discovered while stealing some sweets, thanks to the 37-year-old from Varese, who was watching him on the Internet.
Shoplifting sweets is nothing exceptional, but Gila’s story ended up in the newspapers The Sunday Times and the “Corriere della Sera”, which described him as a distant hero. In fact, there are hundreds of others who, like Gila, check the Internet. “It all began when I discovered the website Internet Eyes by chance,” explained Gila. Internet Eyes is a British website which enables shopkeepers to have Internet users check their security cameras. Every shopkeeper pays £20 a month for the service, and in order to ensure that the website does not become a den of voyeurs, the checkers also have to pay a subscription, of £13 a year.
If the checkers spend many hours on the website, they can have expenses refunded; furthermore, for every successful report, they can receive a reward, up to a maximum jackpot of £1000, for the person that foils the most thefts.
“I don’t do it for money, I never could make much, and anyway, it doesn’t interest me,” Gila explains. “I do it because I think it’s socially useful, an intelligent way to spend your time.” But there are those, who make a living out of it. “I know about an British woman who is at home on maternity leave,” he tells us. “She checks the website for 12 hours every day, and she’s already earned £600 for all of the thefts she’s prevented.”
Most of the checkers generally do not even have the satisfaction of a formal thank you. In order to safeguard both the shopkeepers and the users of the website, those who access Internet Eyes do not know which shop they are watching, and, in any case, they are never shown a shop in their district. When the user thinks he has seen a theft, he clicks on a link provided, and the shopkeeper receives an anonymous text message, telling him he should watch a particular customer more closely. This is where it all stops; generally speaking, there is no other contact between the user and the shopkeeper. But given the exceptional case of Gila, who foiled a theft at such a distance, the shopkeeper’s identity was made known. It was 46-year-old Debbie Butler, from Plymouth, who subsequently had the opportunity to thank the hero from Varese. “The reported youth had stolen only a few sweets, but he belonged to a gang who kept stealing from us.”
So, is this the future? An upgrade of Big Brother, where we are all watching? Gila thinks it is. “The British began, because, in the villages, there are often small shops, where the problem of shoplifting is getting worse,” he explains. “But in the future, the application could be extended; there are millions of surveillance cameras throughout the world, and only a few eyes to watch them, so we can tackle this problem better.” And what about confidentiality? Gila breaks in. “I’m hardly taking a shower in the shop; basically I just feel safer.”