As electronic devices get smaller and more complicated, it can be hard to know exactly when something is looking at you or listening to you. Two recent news stories help make that point.
Are you looking at me?
Many planes that travel long distances have “In-flight Entertainment” (IFE) systems to help travelers pass the time during the flight.
If you decide to see a movie on an airplane, then you probably expect that you’ll watch the screen. You may not be expecting the screen to watch you. But last week, Vitaly Kamluk noticed a camera built into the IFE system on his Singapore Airlines flight. He posted his picture online.
Soon the website Buzzfeed News reported that some American Airlines airplanes also had IFE systems with cameras. It is likely that other airlines also have cameras in their IFE systems.
Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seat back on board of Singapore Airlines. Any expert opinion of whether this a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used? pic.twitter.com/vy0usqruZG
— Vitaly Kamluk (@vkamluk) February 17, 2019
Both Singapore Airlines and American Airlines say that the cameras on their planes are turned off and that they do not plan to use them. The airlines say that the IFE systems came with cameras because the makers of the systems thought they might be useful.
Privacy experts are encouraging the airlines to cover up the cameras so that people don’t have to worry about being spied on. Even if the airlines don’t use the cameras, it’s still possible that someone else could take control of the IFE system and use the cameras without people knowing.
Are you listening to me?
NewsForKids.net has written before about some of the problems with “smart assistants” like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. Devices that use these services, such as Google Home, constantly record what you say so that the assistants can help you when you ask a question or make a request.
But recently, thousands of people discovered that they could use Google Assistant, even if they didn’t buy a device meant to listen in.
Nest is a company owned by the same company that runs Google. Nest makes “smart” devices for the home, such as thermostats, to help control the temperature of the home.
One of Nest’s products is a security system called Nest Guard. In early February, the company said that people could now use the Nest Guard to ask Google Assistant questions.
The only problem was that no one knew that the Nest Guard had a microphone at all. Many people were shocked to learn that someone could have been listening in on them for as long as they had their Nest Guard.
Google has said that the microphones were never turned on. They also agreed that it was a mistake not to tell people about the microphones, which were not supposed to be secret.
It appears that Nest and the airlines did not spy on anyone this time. Still, we live in a time when cheap cameras and microphones are everywhere. It’s clear that people will need to pay close attention to make sure that large companies are respecting their privacy.