Discovery of cameras built into airlines’ seats sparks privacy concerns

By Jon Porter

Cameras pointed at passengers have been noticed in the inflight entertainment systems used by some American Airlines and Singapore Airlines aircraft, BuzzFeed News reports. Both airlines have confirmed that the cameras exist, but they say they were included with off-the-shelf parts from manufacturers and have not been activated. The airlines also confirmed that they have no plans to use them in the future.

The cameras were originally spotted on a Singapore Airlines flight by Twitter user @vkamluk, and BuzzFeed News also found that one of its own former employees had seen a camera in an American Airlines flight. Their existence dates back to at least June 2017 when they can be spotted in pictures of an American Airlines plane in a post from The Points Guy.

Although the airlines in question say the cameras are inactive, they still present a privacy risk. Any camera attached to a connected device has at least some risk of being hacked, and while an aircraft is less accessible than an internet-connected laptop, there’s still a possibility of it being compromised.

In a statement given to BuzzFeed, a spokesperson from American Airlines said that the cameras were included by the original manufacturer to allow for “possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control inflight entertainment.” However, both American Airlines and Singapore Airlines said that they had chosen to disable the cameras.

It’s a similar problem to the microphone that was recently discovered in Nest’s security system. Google originally included the microphone to allow it to add future functionality (which it did when it enabled Google Assistant support), but the company didn’t originally disclose that the microphone was present. Google has since clarified that this was done in “error.” Considering the private information these microphones may overhear, it’s not good enough to not disclose these kinds of details.

If there’s no chance of these cameras ever actually being used for anything, then there’s no reason why American Airlines and Singapore Airlines shouldn’t physically cover them. Even something as simple as a square of sticky tape would do. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.