Seatback webcams have become a major concern for passengers following recent public outrage. In a bid to reassure travelers of their privacy, United Airlines has become the first airline to instigate a policy to cover up the cams.
Does my seat have a camera pointed at me?
The simple answer is yes. For United Airlines, all of their in-flight entertainment devices on the seatbacks were designed with webcams. It wasn’t until recently that the discovery was made and questions raised about the use of the webcams.
Panasonic, a top manufacturer of in-flight entertainment systems for airlines, confirms that they included the webcams within the standard design of the systems. The feature consists of both a camera and a microphone. Supposedly the webcams are inactive but still included for their potential use in the future. The webcams would serve the same functions in-flight as any other setting, for applications such as video calling and gaming.
Airlines are aware that the webcams are present, but have claimed that they were never activated and never will be. United Airlines is included in the list of airlines to have seatback webcams and because of recent negative press, have begun to cover them.
Why cover inactive webcams?
The major concern over the seatback webcams is privacy. The New York Times was the first to report about a webcam incident that brought attention to the potential issues.
Passenger Vitaly Kamluk discovered a webcam on a Singapore Airlines flight. Unsure of what the device was, he proceeded to tweet photos of the webcam while mentioning the airline to comment about the purpose. Singapore Airlines was quick to respond about the inactive webcams, but the post went viral and caused awareness about the presence of webcams on other airlines, including several US carriers.
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
A spokesperson from United Airlines stated:
“All cameras have since been covered, which were never activated and that we have no plans to use in the future.”
American Airlines also made a similar statement. The plan is to cover all current webcams and any present on newly installed systems.
Are we being monitored in-flight?
Privacy in public domains continues to be a widespread issue. The presence of webcams on seatback screens can cause discomfort for many passengers. More than just privacy, the uncertainty about the purpose of the camera is bound to disturb anyone who notices it during their flight.
Are passengers secretly being monitored? It’s easy for an airline to make a statement that the webcams are inactive and serve no purpose, but one fact doesn’t seem to add up. If every airline claims that they are useless, why does every airline have them?
When choosing products to outfit the seatbacks for entertainment, any extra features will mean additional costs per unit. Airlines are more than aware that the systems had the webcam feature, but still selected them to use on their aircraft.
Do you think airlines have been watching passengers during flights? And is a simple cover up enough to resolve the issue?