While You Are Watching ‘Friends’, Your Airline Entertainment System Is Watching YOU

PHOTO: Aris Suwanmalee/Shutterstock

Is your airplane seat watching you?

Earlier this week, a Twitter user pointed out a rather discrete camera on the seatback directly in front of her on a Singapore Airlines flight.

The tweet—which later went viral—from user “Vitaly Kamluk,” showed several images of the camera with the caption, “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?” As of Friday, the picture was liked over 750 times and has received more than 450 retweets.

It turns out, Singapore Airlines wasn’t the only carrier with such a feature—American Airlines’ premium economy seats have also been known to contain such a piece of technology.

Ross Feinstein, American Airlines spokesperson, told Buzzfeed that though the cameras are intended to be part of the in-flight entertainment systems, “they have never been activated, and American is not considering using them.” He clarified that, actually, multiple carriers feature the product, which can perhaps be utilized in the future for uses “such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment.”

In a response tweet, Singapore Airlines thanked Kamluk (who tagged them in the original tweet) in a two-part tweet, which concluded by saying, “These cameras have been disabled on our aircraft, and there are no plans to develop any features using the cameras. Thank you.”

While the airlines reiterated they do not plan on using the devices any time soon, a privacy risk has been noted—especially considering, according to The Verge, a camera connected to a device can potentially be hacked.

Other Unsuspecting Devices That Can Be Hacked

It may not be as difficult as you’d think to hack an unsuspecting device like a camera. Just last year, online security experts found a family’s Amazon Echo had been physically tampered with and hacked. The culprits opened the gadget and inserted a custom SD card that could allow them to use the device’s microphone to listen to surrounding audio and use its features from a remote location. A list from Tom’s Guide, a digital publication focusing on technology, points out that numerous gadgets can be hacked, including, smart TVs, wi-fi-connected thermostats, and, if it has an electronic keypad, your front door.

How to Protect Yourself

Buzzfeed points out that airlines could make an effort to cover the camera. As that protocol has not been implemented yet, you may want to cover the device yourself, either with cloth or plastic. While we’re not saying to stay paranoid, it certainly can help to stay aware when you find yourself in the presence of this and other comparable forms of technology. If you decide to purchase a product like the Amazon Echo, be sure to conduct research that might give you insight into any potential security threats it may present. Digitally protecting yourself on your travels is also very important, especially if personal data is linked to your mobile device. We recommend taking such precautions as installing an anti-theft app and using a password manager on your phone when traveling.