"You wouldn't mind if I read this top secret document with my beard, would you?"
Listening devices and "hidden" cameras that are large and obvious, often with a big red or green light on them. Sometimes they get hidden in ventilation grates in such a way that the light they emit can be seen by anyone walking by. And sometimes they're right out in the open, apparently unnoticed by people who really ought to know better.
Tracking devices are even worse for this, not only having a red light, but beeping audibly, which is several kinds of stupid. One would think that Batman of all people would realize that perhaps it's not a good idea to stick a beeping, light-equipped device onto somebody's car and expect them not to notice.
While still played straight on occasion, just as often it's subverted or parodied. Such variants include:
A bug which is so absurdly large or obvious that it should be utterly impossible to miss (e.g., one the size of a bowling ball stuck to the back of someone's head, beeping with the volume of a truck horn). If someone points it out, they're dismissed as being paranoid.
In Variable Geo, a listening device the size of a yoyo with a huge green light on it is affixed to the seat of the woman in charge of the corporation behind the tournament that is the center of the series. This powerful, hypercompetent woman never notices.
Subverted (or possibly played straight) with Tachikoma, which are twice the size of a normal person, and are used to spy frequently. However, they have stealth technology, making them invisible to the naked eye, and can Wall Crawl.
In Space Runaway Ideon, the Buff Clan plant a tracker on the escaping Solo space ship. Said bug later gets picked up by the crew, inspected, tossed around, and ran over by the Ideon itself, and still continues working. Justified by the space ship being lost technology and the crew not knowing what belongs and what doesn't... but you would think someone would eventually catch on.
Especially considering that one of the members of the Solo Ship crew (Karala) is a former Buff Clan soldier, and up until halfway into the series (when prototypes fresh off the drawing board were launched at the Solo Ship), knew every piece of Buff Clan military technology down to the last detail. Of course, if they threw away the tracker, the Buff Clan would probably never find them after a few DS Drives, and the series would end early.
The Literal Surveillance Bugs used by Dr. Gero in Dragon Ball that were able to monitor several character for years without being detected, once pointed out, was clearly visible even at a distance and also made a beeping sound.
The ones used in Gatchaman. About an inch across, blue, with little silver legs to cling to the target, a blinking red light, and at least one was left in an incredibly obvious place. Just below the window of the back door of a car. On the driver's side.
Averted in the Firefly comic Serenity: Better Days. A stolen assault robot releases hundreds of tracking devices that appear no bigger than a grain of sand.
Spoofed in Gorsky and Butch. In a scene which was a parody of Matrix, one of the agents threatened Jerry with implanting a "miniature tracking device" into his body. It was about the size of a cellphone.
Spider-Man had spider-tracers, red peanut-sized spider-shaped devices he used to track people down. Usually, they were fired from the top of his web-shooter at fleeing villains who were none the wiser. One of the reasons why Spider-Man doesn't use the spider-tracers anymore may be due to the fact the bad guys he attached them to were frequently finding them and using them against him.
Especially bad since they're designed to set off his spider sense, meaning they can be used to trigger false positives in that sense, turning one of his greatest edges into a weakness as Iron Man has demonstrated.
The tracers were easy to find, since they were red, shaped like the spider-insignia on his back, and they looked like the kind of trinkets one would find in a Cracker Jack box. His clone, the Scarlet Spider, was much smarter about this: he created Minidot Tracers, which were still red, but were also circular and MUCH smaller.
One story arc has a villain with a penchant for paying attention framing Spider-Man for a slew of murders, by leaving found spider-tracers on all of the victim's bodies.
In a Brand New Day story, one of them was as big as a CD. The trackee of course noticed it.
Ex Machina: Kremlin gives Mitchell a tie pin in the shape of a gear to reflect his roots as an engineer and a former machine-based superhero. The pin is engineered so that Mitchell can't "hear" it, so it goes unnoticed but it is featured rather prominently in the first arc.
In Short Circuit, when the protagonist #5 wanders off, its creator turns on its homing beacon so that his corporation can track it down. When #5 notices the beacon, it's about the size of an apple, with a prominent blinking light, easily detached and tossed into the back of some hapless bypasser's pickup truck. In this case, #5 was never intended to become self-aware enough to decide that the homing device should be gotten rid of, which may excuse its obviousness, but there is no reason a robotics company spending a fortune on a self-operating war machine wouldn't take care to integrate its homing beacon more effectively into the device. Even a prototype would have the homing beacon properly secured to prevent it from being knocked off during exercises — and a final production version would've been even more ruggedized.
Unless they thought that they might not want anything integral that the enemy could use to track these guys.
Spoofed in "A Fistful of Yen", the Enter the Dragon parody from The Kentucky Fried Movie. The hero engages in conversation with a woman while she points out the bugs in his room, starting with a really obvious (but not totally ridiculous) one on the lamp, progressing to studio microphones on the side of pictures, a boom mike overhead, a technician waving audio equipment around, and finally a section of his room holding an entire audio studio with technicians.
Ada Gronick: The guards will have to be bribed. We'll need money. Loo: We can raise the money, that's no problem. (pulls down the boom mike and speaks directly into it)BUT THAT WOULD BE WRONG!
In Battlefield Earth, not only are the cameras large enough to be seen easily, but they even make a noise when operating. Despite this, the assistant bad guy never notices them, even though he has viewed other people through them before. But then the movie is so awful anyway....
In the second Austin Powers movie, Felicity Shagwell is charged with planting a homing beacon on Fat Bastard. The beacon is roughly the size of a small egg and a good third of it is a flashing red light with a beeping sound attached. She successfully plants it on him by seducing him, sleeping with him and then when he rolls over to look over the side of the bed (for food) she shoves it up his backside. He just thinks she's "frisky" and jumps back on top of her. This turns out to be a stupid idea as he just craps it out.
Although the vegetative makeup in said stool sample does allow them to find Dr. Evil's lair.
Surprisingly, used by Jason in The Bourne Identity, when he places a large can-like object under the rear bumper of a van. To his credit, it doesn't beep or blink, but it's pretty large and obvious to anyone that walks up from behind the van....
Invoked in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: triple-agent Mac drops several devices with big, flashing red lights and loud beeps to lead Spalko to the City of Gold. In this case, Mac was counting on them being spotted, so it would make sense for them to be conspicuous.
Parodied in The Fifth Element: one of Zorg's agents spies on a top secret government meeting by strapping a microphone to a cockroach. The cockroach is huge and the microphone is half as big as the cockroach.
The obviousness of it was increased by the person driving the cockroach leaving the cockroach on the President's desk in plain view... where the President sees it and squashes it flat.
The Nanny Diaries has a teddy bear with a rather obvious camera on it. Subverted since near the end, the nanny is ranting into it for the housewife to see.
In The Dark Knight, Lucius leaves a bugged cell phone behind. It beeps aloud and scrolls text in the display while bugging.
The phone's beeping is integral to its functionality as a Plot Coupon.
That and it is a fairly normal cell phone. It's Batman's new suit and tracking equipment that makes it useful as a bug.
Averted in the first Hellboy movie during Hellboy's initial confrontation with the hellhound Samael. Yes, the tracking device is fairly big, and is colorful (in this case, bright green), but nonetheless difficult to discover, because it's a special bullet for Hellboy's BFG, and therefore ends up inside Samael's body.
Actually, that was some sort of luminescent capsule designed to make tracking his target similar to following a blood trail by leaving a trail of bright green glowstick juice.
Brannigan (1975). The police plant a magnetically-attached bug on the vehicle of the mob lawyer used to make the ransom exchange, but he finds it and plants it on another vehicle while stopped in traffic. Unfortunately John Wayne has planted a second bug inside one of the bundles of ransom money.
Averted in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Spock put a tracking device on Captain Kirk's shoulder before he beamed to Chancellor Gorkon's ship. It was a different color from the rest of the uniform and visible to anyone looking closely, but otherwise just looked like a bit of cloth. Evidently the Klingons don't bother searching prisoners or confiscating their clothing. Probably saves on the prison budget at Rura Penthe.
Unsurprisingly averted several times in The Conversation, which centres around the life of lonely bugging expert Harry Caul, played by Gene Hackman. As a prank, his rival Bernie Moran gives him an ordinary ballpoint pen with a microphone hidden inside, and it is so well concealed that Harry, the "expert", doesn't clue in at all. Later, when he learns that his own apartment is bugged, he frantically rips apart his room but isn't able to find anything.
Done to a truly awful degree in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. In order to bug a mob boss, an undercover detective gives him a ship in a bottle. But instead of building the bug into the ship he attached the huge obvious thing to the outside. The kicker? He doesn't attach in it advance, but instead stands right outside the guy's office sticking it on.
Subverted in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai. When the Paris police sneak into assassin Jef Costello's apartment to plant a listening device, the one they initially choose is a huge black box with a big antenna and a red light. The officer puts it in the hiding place, scrutinizes it briefly, and then decides to go with a smaller model. Even the small one is pretty big, though considering the film was made in 1967, it's hard to judge whether that really would have been the best they had available.
Parodied in The Naked Gun 2; Frank Drebin is captured by the bad guys and gets patted down. The mook patting him says "he's wired!", and shows us the device: it takes up all of Frank's chest, complete with flashing lights and whirring tape.
This trope is used for comedy in The Glass Bottom Boat. A bug is made to blend in with a plate of h'ourderves. Unfortunately, it is rather plastic and fake-looking. Even worse, it moves around on the plate. A nervous guest still manages to eat it.
In the Battlefield Earthbook (which is quite a bit better than the movie, has somewhat more explanation, and a rather more complex plot) there is a setup with several cameras which are intended to be found, complemented by several more which are considerably smaller, with lead-coated covers that flick closed when a bug detector is used in their vicinity. Needless to say, these aren't detected.
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code uses the 'obvious bug to draw attention away from the other way' variant. The less obvious bug was pretty much undetectable, and the more obvious bug (obvious only by comparison, it is indistinguishable from a shirt button) was only there because the villain would've be suspicious if he hadn't found anything at all.
Perfect Dark the novel. Yes, the novel. Daniel Carrington uses a bug in the flowers to steal info from a rival. It might have worked...if one of Daniel's people hadn't been caught out doing the SAME THING earlier to one of the rival's employees.
The Talisman: all the boys' rooms in the Sunlight Home are bugged. A subversion, as the bug is in plain sight because Sunlight Gardener wants the boys to know he's listening.
One of the original James Bond books used this. The audio bugs were meant to be discovered easily, leading to the heroes speaking through notes. They didn't see the hidden cameras, though....
Inverted in an issue of Perry Rhodan. The delegation of the planet Camelot (coordinates unknown to outsiders at this time) moves into their new embassy on Arkon and discovers... no detectable bugs at all. It's this very fact that arouses their suspicions enough to launch a ploy to confirm that their embassy is in fact bugged after all, and the discovery that their hosts have found a way to turn all the plants in the area, both indoors and out, into rather effective 'bugs' by means of nigh undetectable wires threaded through their very cells and leading out through the roots.
Averted in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Grand Admiral Thrawn manages to bug the New Republic's main government building on Coruscant. They do constant sweeps with the best droids they have, but to no avail. Turns out the bugs were the trees that had been planted by the Emperor some time ago as a means of spying on politicians. They would convert the vibrations from sound waves into electronic signals that could then be played back as audio and give the Imperial technicians a perfect link to their plans.
Type2 example used in Dark Force Rising (also by Zahn), where ship-thief Niles Ferrier plants an obvious bug on the hull of Lando's ship while his invisible associate sneaks into the ship itself to plant a second one. It works. Lando finds and leaves the first bug on the planet, but the second one remains undetected and helps Ferrier get a lead on the Katana Fleet
Exiles by Aaron Allston has a spider-shaped, mobile bug planted on a spy-trained Jedi by folks who know he is trained to spot bugs. Somewhat quickly discovered and neutralized. The Jedi also detects the aerial surveillance by pure Force skill. Not quite sure what the bug was supposed to accomplish...
Allston likes this trope. In Wraith Squadron one of Zsinj's plots involves putting smallish, flat box-shaped clinging droids on the hulls of New Republic starships, so they can report on where the ships go. Big ships might never notice - these are space ships, after all - and when one is spotted on a factory-new X-Wing it's assumed to be just another one of the stupid unauthorized things added on by the manufacturers. The Wraiths really only discovered it on accident, because of another Zsinj plot. These "bugs" don't blink, beep, or move (at least when anyone's present; they do sometimes switch from one ship to another, which is how it was eventually discovered), and they try to blend in with the color scheme of the ship they're attached to, but they're still a good twenty centimeters to a side.
Another Allston example, though this one's justified: In Rebel Dream, Iella Wessiri finds a relatively obvious microphone on a water pipe in the Skywalker's bathroom—a double sign of incompetence, as the microphone would only be useful if water were not running through the pipe. The corresponding "listener" is found in the quarters of Tycho Celchu (who everyone knows was definitely not involved). Figuring that the real spy likely has a second "listener" of their own, they choose to leave the microphone in place for a Feed the Mole ploy. It later turns out that the actual spy who planted it wasn't doing so willingly, and while he was trained in journalism, those skills did not translate well to spying in this case. He was later freed from his programming. When he finally figured out that the info he'd gathered had only hurt the Yuuzhan Vong cause, he was much relieved.
Allston also averts the trope when it suits the story. In Starfighters of Adumar, Wedge Antilles has Tycho Celchu do a sweep of the quarters for listening devices. He finds a couple, but is Genre Savvy enough to realize there might be more he hasn't found. They do determine to their own satisfaction that their fighters and clothes are bug-free, however, and documentarian Hallis Saper later reveals the balcony is also clear of listening devices, giving them a few options for private conversation that they use. It works; the New Republic Intelligence officer has no idea how much they've guessed about the situation, until Wedge has a rather heated discussion with him later. Speaking of Hallis Saper (an Intrepid Reporter type with a Paparazzi background), she has numerous ingenious ways to hide her recording equipment. One of her more obvious methods involves placing it in a 3PO droid head and mounting it on her shoulder, but this is an invocation of Iconic Outfit that allows her to be more covert when she wishes; after she's forced to abandon the 3PO droid head, she hides her recording devices inside an intricate hairstyle with gems; it works here because she's at a major diplomatic function with several others sporting similarly fancy looks.
CHERUB has a malfunctioning bug begins repeatedly beeping, causing a mission to fail.
Most of the time, however, CHERUB averts this trope.
The Action Hero's Handbook advises that if you find such a bug, don't stop looking, because a Genre Savvy spy may have planted a less obvious bug elsewhere and counted on you to assume this trope.
Harry Harrison's Little Fuzzy subverts this trope hilariously. Van Riebeek has plans, and having the Fuzzies' sentience exposed will ruin them. But somehow the government knows exactly what he's up to. That big gorgeous globe of Zarathustra with the electrical display, smack in the middle of his office, that he got as a present? It's got a full-scale audio-visual-transmission set up in it.
In the pilot miniseries of the new Battlestar Galactica, a large and obvious Cylon device is located in a prominent place in the center of the bridge. To their credit, technicians did apparently notice it, but they thought it had been installed properly as part of the battlestar's transformation into a museum and didn't report it; Colonel Tigh had words to say to them on the topic.
Baltar notices the device and figures it's Cylon in design but can't very well come out and say it, as they might suspect him of being a Cylon. Instead, he frames a recently-arrived crewmember, who is left behind on a space station. The kicker? That guy really was a Cylon.
This is used to some degree in Veronica Mars. Though the devices themselves are not incredibly conspicuous in design or form, merely the fact that Veronica Mars has given you a teddy bear, stapler, iPod, novelty pencil, gift basket, paperweight, school spirit button, etc. should be a red flag not to divulge your deepest secrets directly into it. Chances are that it not only captures perfect audio, but also captures video that can be blown up into high resolution stills when appropriate.
There's a pretty straight instance in "Clash of the Tritons": Veronica plants a tracking device under Duncan Kane's car. With a big, convenient red LED to show you that it's active. It's still hard to see above the tire, granted, but in a dark garage...
And when she's trying to bug someone with a little bit of genre savvyness, she'll sometimes plant two bugs: One incredibly obvious one for her target to find, and a less obvious one for them not to find.
An attempt at making a truly unobtrusive listening device was made on Get Smart, with CONTROL spending thousands of dollars to create a literal "bug" — a tiny, perfectly lifelike, robotic fly with listening devices and radar built in. At the rollout, Max is so fooled by the disguise that he swats the fly.
Subverted in season 4 of 24; when CTU hands Behrooz Araz over to the terrorists with the intention of finding their base, they plant two bugs on him - an incredibly obvious one they intend for the terrorists to find, and a second subdermal implant which they expect that the terrorists won't think to look for after finding the first one. Unfortunately, they find both, and Behrooz is never heard from again.
Played for laughs in 'Allo 'Allo!, where a listening device in the Colonel's office is disguised as a vase of daffodils. When it is activated, one of the daffodils rises a few inches and rotates to point at whoever's talking. In a later episode, this incident is referred to, and everyone agrees that they won't be fooled again... and we notice that the desk lamp is rotating to point at whoever's talking.
Subverted on LOST: your typical flashing bug is planted in the terrorists' hangout, but it's put there to allow Sayid to find and disable it, thus winning favor with the terrorists and beginning his infiltration.
Played for comedy on Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia, where Frank used a baby monitor as a bug. He comments that people buy baby monitors because everybody is "suspicious of babies."
Subverted in the pilot of Leverage. The protagonists plant a bug that's found by the mark. Realizing the plan, he intends to trap the protagonists by informing the FBI of the plan, not knowing that he's running headlong into the protagonists' Kansas City Shuffle.
Dubenich: I found the transmitter! Nate: No, you found the transmitter with the blinking light.
Seen in an episode of The Streets of San Francisco. The tracking device is large and obvious (although not blinking or beeping), but it is planted on the back bumper of the car after the hero has gotten in, thus justifying them not noticing it.
In The IT Crowd, Jen worries about how visible Roy's hidden camera set up is, and he assures her modern technology is very discreet. Cut to a highly visible full-size camera lens sticking out of a hole in a box... which turns out to be the box the camera came in, complete with a lifesize photograph of it.
Averted in Mission: Impossible. The standard bugs used by the team were metal disks no more than an inch across (tiny for the period) with no lights or beeping, and were generally hidden under tables or in other inconspicuous places.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Act Zero has Sailor V and Artemis attaching (offscreen) a rather noticeable blinking tracking device to the suitcase the villains of this episode carried around. Of course, they only notice it after she finds them and points this fact out; then again, this entire episode was never meant to be taken seriously....
Subverted in an episode of Ocean Girl. A bug the size of an ashtray with a blinking red light is placed under a table. The two children who find it don't hesitate at all to destroy it. The evil corporation hunting them down wonder how it got found.
Averted in the Doctor Who story The Ribos Operation. A discrete listening device about the size of a thumbnail was hidden on the inside of an architectural folly, out of sight for anyone not thoroughly searching the room or who was phenomenally lucky. It still got found.
Hogan's Heroes: A large bucket of water sat outside Hogan's barracks with a very visible periscope that popped up and looked around. (The eyepieces were in the two-tap faucet in the barrack's sink.) There is also the picture of Hitler in Col. Klink's office. It shows Hitler giving a speech with a microphone. Of all obvious places to stick a hidden microphone....
The Prisoner has statues with cameras in the eyes. This in itself would be rather obvious, but The Village takes it onetwo steps further: The cameras in the eyes have blinking lights, and the statues themselves rotate to track people.
Usually averted on Burn Notice. The exceptions invariably come with a justification; for example, in one case, the person planting it was the buggee's friend being coerced into it, and "all but signed my name on the damn thing" specifically to tip him off.
Played straight in the pilot, though. Once again, justified by Michael being low on cash. Effectively, it includes a cheap cell phone (i.e. has a microphone without any noise filters) jury-rigged with two batteries from better cell phones. Sam did put it under the car seat, where most people don't look, though.
In the episode "iSpy a Mean Teacher" on iCarly, Freddie gets a giant plastic piece of pie with a very obvious camera lens in the side. It even comes with a giant fork!
In The Monkees episode "The Spy Who Came In From the Cool", the bug is in a lamp at the center of the table which the guys blatantly move back and forth between them and the spies.
In Swedish comedy series Hipp Hipp, TV reporter Morgan Pålsson is talking to an illegal weapons dealer, while holding a potted plant.
Morgan: Please say "I sell guns." Into this flower.
The subject of a Mr. Show sketch, in which an undercover police officer uses a variety of very poorly disguised cameras and microphones in an attempt to bust a criminal.
In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Fair Game", the Goa'uld accuse their hosts of this:
Nirrti : Your crude surveillance devices were poorly hidden in our quarters.
Daniel : Well that’s because they weren’t hidden.
Lord Yu : (hands Daniel a broken camera)
Subverted on Babylon 5. In "The Geometry of Shadows", Londo tries to plant a (small for this trope, but still visible to the audience) spy camera in order to capture a symbolic image for his own gain. The other party involved notices the bug (disposing of it spectacularly), and is very unhappy.
The other party being Technomages, who are experts at planting sophisticated microscopic bugs (in this case, "microscopic" means "nanoscale").
In one strip of Get Fuzzy Fungo drops off a huge collar with an obvious lens in it so that Bucky and his roommates can be recorded for a Reality TV Series. Satchel acknowledged that it was heavy but that he found the beeping noises soothing.
In the Onkel Hotte three-parter "Sam Hotte, Privatdetektiv" (Sam Hotte, P.I.) which is The Maltese FalconmeetsSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs, evil queen Silicone Collins orders private eye Sam Hotte to find her stepdaughter and give her a present from her late husband and the latter's father, a Malteser Sackratte (Maltese crab louse) figurine. It is beeping audibly, and both Sam (in the first part) and one of the dwarfs (in the third part) point out that it looks like a big tracking device which Silicone Collins explains to Sam with artistic license.
A magical variant with Dungeons & Dragons: powers like Clairaudience and Clairvoyance, and other scrying methods, are perfectly discreet ways of spying on people, since only those with supernatural senses or the proper spells can notice them. However, in the Ravenloft setting, any scrying will create a ghostly organ (ear or eye) which is visible. Newcomers to the demiplane not privy to this fact may get a surprise on their first spying attempts.
Occasionally played with in Paranoia. In Alpha Complex most places are bugged to some extent or another, often quite subtly, but that doesn't stop the Computer from occasionally having very obvious cameras, or other obvious tracking devices.
Of course, the presence of an obvious camera probably means its less likely for anyone to be watching. After all, how often do things actually work as intended in Alpha Complex?
In GoldenEye 007, an objective in one level requires you to place a tracking device on a helicopter. The bug is actually the same color as the helicopter and specially designed to be undetectable — but the game isn't programmed to notice if you place the bug on the windshield.
Not to mentioned the "covert" modem in the Dam level, which is enormous, as is required to be planted right on the monitor of a computer.
Averted in GoldenEye Wii, where Bond places his GPS-enabled smartphone on the underside of the helicopter in a cutscene. Played straight with the security cameras, which have highly-visible lights showing their field of vision.
Subverted in Resident Evil 4, Leon attaches a beeping, flashing tracker bug to Ashley's back when the Big Bad takes her away. Not surprisingly, Leon finds it discarded in a puddle two scenes later.
You get one of these planted on you in the original Metal Gear.
And again in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, once unobtrusively and once inserted into an open wound by Ocelot. Ocelot's transmitter would be pretty hard to find, if it weren't for the fact that you have to manually heal your wounds, and the transmitter shows up as... well, as a transmitter in a wound. Leaving it in showed an extra cutscene when Snake meets up with Eva.
The Boss plants a less obvious one on Snake, which Volgin finds.
In Megaman Legends 2: Teisel and the others listen in onto a conversation on the Sulphur-Bottom about the Cosmic Keystones and Barrell spots the bug on one of the security guards. Cue the loud screeching noise in Teisel's Ear.
BioShock has lights on things that probably wouldn't have lights (such as steam powered turrets and flying attack bots) that arbitrarily change from red to green when you convert them by re-plumbing them, and "security cameras" the size of two toasters. They throw spotlights as part of their search function- which makes sense, given the lack of ambient light throughout most of the game. Most cameras can be spotted easily, by their search lights, or by the incredibly loud sounds they make while moving.
Also the cameras in System Shock 2 that inspired them. Gigantic green light that turns yellow, then red, when they see you, and goes out when the camera is destroyed. These cameras are also massive, which makes even less sense considering the different setting.
Perfect Dark: In Mission 3-1 (Chicago), you must place a Tracking Device on a Datadyne limo. On an additional note, you'll fail the mission if the guards see you planting the device.
Touhou's 11th game, Subterranean Animism, has Reimu or Marisa travelling to the Underground Hell, while their weapons have been modified by Yukari, upgrading them to "walkie-talkie". The funny thing? Reimu and Marisa didn't even know about this, until they started hearing voices from nowhere. Nice co-op!
One sidequest in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has the protagonist sneak into an actress' home to plant cameras so her rival-turned-Nosferatu can get some dirt on her and ruin her reputation. The three cameras are roughly fist-sized (think USB-cable cameras for your computer) and placed in open view. You don't make a single attempt to hide them, just put 'em down on coffee tables and desks, then connect them to the internet through the resident's own computer. And just to complete the unbelievable, the rival gets her dirty laundry on her right away. It involves a llama. That's right, she ignored the incredibly obvious cameras and brought a llama to her apartment for some unspeakable acts. Refuge in Audacity much? As a finishing touch to blow your mind - you have to place said cameras while sneaking around. Since said woman (and her boyfriend) are still in said apartment, walking from room to room. Should she be like — hey was this nice camera here 5 seconds ago?
Edward deliberately uses one in Final Fantasy IV The After Years. In his tale, he suspects something is wrong with Cecil, and pays him a visit, giving him a "gift" of some Damcyan flowers. His suspicions are confirmed when Cecil fails to recognize it as a Whisperweed, which Cecil used in the original game. And then he uses it to spy on the bad guys, making him the first character to know something was up, and to actually put one over on the villains at the same time.
In Deus Ex security cameras glow green and emit a constant beeping sound.
Well the beeping only sounds if they spot someone, which is rather useful for alerting nearby guards.
Justified in Human Revolution: the cameras are not generally intended to be invisible, and Adam's optic augmentations show the cameras' cone of vision on his HUD.
Played with and lampshaded in Sly 2: Band Of Thieves. Since Rajan's second hideout is in the jungle, your Mission Control points out that an electronic device would be too obvious and gives you an actual bug that can transmit sound back to you. Unfortunately, said bug makes a high-pitched noise when it's away from water for too long, so unless you frequently release it into nearby pools, you'll have half the guards on the map running towards you. Then, towards the end of the third game, Penelope releases a gigantic, flashing disc over Bloodbath Bay and it's almost immediately shot down by superstitious henchmen.
The Recon class in Battlefield 3 can deploy gadgets that automatically spot enemies. In the interest of Competitive Balance, any enemies in detection range can hear the devices beeping and see their location through walls. Merely aiming in the direction of a gadget may also highlight them for all to see.
Averted and played with in Mass Effect, where bugs are tiny things not visible to the naked eye, and are implied to require advanced scanners to detect. Even the best bugs are Incredibly Obvious to Dr. Mordin Solus, though:
Found a large number of surveillance bugs and cameras. Destroyed most of them. Returned expensive one to Miranda.
And evidently Tali.
Shepard: The Illusive Man isn't running this show, I am.
Tali: So you're the one who put the monitoring devices all over the ship?
Lampshaded in the iPhone game Battle Nations in a mission where the scientist needs a Tracking Device to study the local raptor population the resident Wrench Wench asks what color he wants the blinking light, "they always have one."
In an episode of Cheat Commandos, the eponymous characters are invited to the villain's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow, their leader can see everything that's going on. It is eventually revealed to be Reinforcements standing on the other side of the room with a camera.
Played with in Strong Bad Email number 81 (date) when Strong Bad gets a close of of Strong Mad punching Strong Sad in the face:
SS: (to SM) When did you start wearing a glass ring?
SB: (offscreen, watching the video. Oh, beautiful!
SS: ...With a camera in it?
Exterminatus Now: "Who...is that bitch with the video camera?" Said video camera also has a sticker reading "Property of the Mobian Inquisition"
Played with a couple times on Schlock Mercenary. For instance, one scene has an attractive female reporter start making small talk with the mercenaries while wearing invisible contact lens cameras. Invisible to the humans, that is; clearly visible to certain non-human crewmembers with better eyesight. Oops.
In Spacetrawler, the bugs that King places on Dmitri actually are pretty well-hidden, but the Conspiracy has "the most advanced bug detecting equipment in existence" and quickly finds them. Well, most of them.
Secret society member: I just can't help but wonder, who the hell would plant eighty-six bugs on somebody? King:[listening over the radio] The same being who would actually plant ninety-two, and hope you missed some.
In The Randomverse: Marvel/DC Happy Hour, Batman attaches a tracer to the Joker, but Joker immediately notices and puts it on the Green Goblin.
Appears in Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog where Dr Horrible throws a cola can sized tracking/remote control device onto a van; making a huge "CLUNK" as the magnet attaches, and proceeds to use his iPhone to control its movements. Unfortunately his archnemesis Captain Hammer notices it almost immediately and crushes it.
Mr. Crocker: Actually that's my fairy detector- I mean yes! Dead beeping flowers. That are dead.
An episode of The Hair Bear Bunch has the zookeeper Mr. Peevly order video cameras hidden throughout the zoo to keep tabs on the titular bunch. The Bears found the cameras easily. Justified in that the one who actually hid the cameras, Lionel J. Botch, isn't a very bright person.
The pilot cuts from the eavesdropping Zim bragging about his hidden, 'ingenious listening device' to a giant metal tick, with antenna and twitching legs clutching the back of Dib's cartoonishly large head.
In "Tak the Hideous New Girl", Zim is able to follow Dib to Tak's lair because he'd planted a tracking device on him... a device that turns out to simply be GIR clinging to the back of Dib's head.
GIR: Your head smells like a puppy!
In another episode, Dib plants a listening device in Zim's base during a Flash Back by tricking Zim into turning his head and then throwing a trashcan-sized device through a wall.
Dib: HEY! Take a look at that garbage can! Zim: Why yes, it is quite impressive, that can...
Subverted in the Transformers: Beast Wars episode "Bad Spark". Megatron attaches a cartoonishly large bug to Blackarachnia's back... and, as she walks away, we see it fade to invisibility. Later in the episode, we see Megatron sitting and looking down in a manner that implies he's perfectly aware of the large, spider-shaped listener Tarantulas has placed under Megatron's own chair. Played straight, however, in the episode "Tangled Web," where Tarantulas chucks a large, red, beeping bug onto the equipment Quickstrike had collected... and it makes a loud clanging sound as it lands. Naturally, Quickstrike doesn't notice.
In the Transformers Animated comic prequel/side-story The Arrival, Blackarachnia attaches a tracking device to Starscream, which he fails to notice.
In an episode of The Simpsons, an undercover Homer is sent in to record health violations at the Kwik-E-Mart, wearing "a camera so small, it fits into this oversize novelty hat." Said camera also emits an audible buzzing noise and is incredibly heavy, which causes the user to have trouble balancing it (in fact it's so heavy that using it for over 20 minutes causes permanent neck damage).
In another episode, the FBI places a listening device under Homer's shirt that makes a noticeable rectangular bulge. Homer goes into Moe's and, of course, immediately asks if anyone has any illegal activities they would like to discuss. When one barfly is arrested, and the others smell a rat (though nobody suspects Homer), Homer audibly mumbles "End Transmission" into his stomach and slinks off.
And the treehouse phone (consisting of two cans and a string) was tapped by another string running into a van.
In season 13, "Poppa's Got a Brand New Badge", when Homer starts a security company, he busts Fat Tony and his gang for selling ferrets disguised as toy poodles to pet shops. One of the ferrets, that they already disguised as a toy poodle, is wearing a large listening device that's strapped to its back that has a beeping red light, with an antennae, wires, an on/off switch, and a microphone sticking out. Somehow they never noticed the device while they were disguising it.
In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Robin's Reckoning", Batman plants a bug under an armrest on mob boss Arnold Stromwell's chair roughly the size and shape of a peanut butter cup. For extra points, it has glowing lights in a darkened room. But Stromwell was too distracted yelling at Batman's target, Tony Zucco, to notice; Batman's then spotted by one of the lookouts on patrol. Chances are the thing's battery died before Stromwell could've found it.
Then in the Batman/Superman crossover movie, World's Finest, he plants a dime-sized flashing bug on Superman. Superman can't even find the bug until after he's changed into Clark Kent and Batman's figured out his identity. The thing was hidden in the folds of his cape, and Bats made sure to piss Superman off before he planted it, thus ensuring the Man Of Steel wasn't thinking clearly on his way home.
Batman uses a lot of tiny but bat-shaped and often flashing bugs. The freakout of the targets when they find them brings up the question of gathering info vs messing with the targets' minds.
A tracking bug stuck to Goliath in the first story arc of Gargoyles is fairly inconspicuous... but blatantly labeled with the logo of the people who placed it!
In fairness, Goliath had just been transplanted from 990 to 1990, and his having made the acquaintance of New York Detective Elisa Maza was completely unknown. As such, Goliath would have been completely in the dark as to what it was — if he'd even found it, which seems to have been unlikely. (But still, Xanatos has to have other uses for bugs than sticking them to sentient gargoyles. Should have slipped a memo to the manufacturer.)
Goliath gets bugged two more times in the course of the series: the second time by Xanatos again and the last one by Robyn Canmore.
Parodied (like most things) on Drawn Together when Spanky Ham, in order to record Captain Hero's illegal manipulation of gambling, attempts to have a conversation with Hero concerning the swindle while secretly recording the conversation on a hidden tape recorder. Said tape recorder is taped to the front of his shirt and is half the size of Spanky. Subverted in that Captain Hero does suspect that Spanky is acting suspicious so he ends the conversation quickly by "describing all the specifics and incriminating details of his illegal scam".
Spider-Man sometimes had these when the writers remembered to use them. They were small devices tuned to his spider-sense that spidey would throw onto the bumpers of cars or onto the backs of thugs so he could follow them. They were also bright red and spider-shaped. Not very discreet.
Actually some of them were white and oval in shape with a highly stylized spider-motif (like the symbol on his back). They were also very small compared to some of the examples here. Sometimes he actually used more than one, with one being very obvious, so as to distract them from the more cleverly hidden one.
Spidey uses one of the clingy-stylized-spider type as an engagement ring. It comes in handy when she's kidnapped.
Lampooned in The Tick season 2 episode, "Coach Fussel's Lament", in which The Tick orders a "Fiend Finder" which is an Incredibly Obvious Bug with matching tracker.
The Tick: You're telling me we have to find the fiend before we can use the Fiend Finder?! WHAT A RIP-OFF!
On the other hand, what would you expect from surveillance equipment purchased with breakfast cereal box tops?
Subverted in an episode of American Dad!, where Francine knows Stan was spying on her as part of a plot due to the multitude of obvious cameras lying around the house.
Used in an episode of Code Lyoko. Secret service agents think Jeremie is hacking into weapons databases, so Jim volunteers to be the one to plant a tracking device on him. His method? He slaps it onto him.
While rarely resembling the incredibly obvious bugs of fiction, this trope actually represented reality for some places and time periods. In particular, a famous joke in East Germany went:
Q: How do you know that the Stasi has bugged your apartment? A: There's a new cabinet in it.
An in-person variant of the "distraction from a smaller bug" subversion was part of Anonymous's tactics when protesting Scientology. The Scientologists would harass anyone they saw with a camera, but would then be oblivious to all the people with cellular phones nearby.
Thinkgeek sells over-sized security cameras with blinking lights. Makes perfect sense; it's better a burglar decides not to rob your house than to rob you and possibly get caught. Taking this logic even further, some places sell false but obvious security cameras whose only purpose is to appear to be an Incredibly Obvious Bug.
Relatedly, one can find instructions for installing a blinking LED in your car's dashboard to make it appear to have a car alarm. A few cars have even been marketed with the blinking LED already installed.
And going even a step further, you can now buy real security cameras that look exactly like the fake security cameras pretending to be real security cameras.
The Finnish military bought equipment from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Finns knew that their hotel rooms would be obviously bugged so while discussing in "private" they would mention X as absolutely definitely maximum agreeable price for a given item and like clockwork the next day Soviet negotiators would ask X+Y which would then be haggled to X.
Similarly, auto salesmen have microphones in their offices. When they go to "check with their bosses", they're listening to you discuss the car. One buying technique is to discuss a competing car and how well it compared to this one, and maybe we should go back there when we get this quote.
Soon after we arrived Derek and Marion Robinson pointed to at least one advantage of being 'bugged.' One breakfast time they had commented out loud that a bulb had burnt out in the kitchen and debated who to ask for a replacement. When Marion returned from her routine morning shopping tour she found the bulb had been replaced...
There's a well-known Russian joke involving the fictional Soviet spy Stierlitz in Nazi Germany:
Hitler walks into the war room and sees a large, heavy grey box in the middle of the table.
Hitler: What's that?
Heinrich Müller: It's a latest Soviet audio-recording bug, possibly put here by Stierlitz.
Hitler: (exasperated) So get rid of it?
Heinrich Müller: We tried. Nobody can lift the damn thing.
The majority of listening devices can be detected by setting a portable radio to the static between AM stations and moving it around until the bug's feedback loop can be heard. Devices that won't create such a loop exist but are expensive and hard to get - the CIA can afford them, the car dealership won't bother.