About a month ago we discussed how facial recognition in CCTV cameras could potentially provide the tools necessary to build an Orwellian society that tracks every citizen’s movements regardless of how innocent they may be. In reality, surveillance has been increasing steadily across all emerging economies and developed nations. In the United States, for example, there are cities where CCTV cameras are planted basically everywhere. But despite all of this, we’re still able to enjoy privacy in our own homes, right?
But What If We’re the Ones Installing Cameras?
Look at your phone for a second. Admire the technological marvel you hold in your hand. It’s a computer that can process information faster than people using IBM Aptiva PCs back in the 90s were even able to fathom. And yet it fits right in your palm, so you can take it wherever you go.
Easy sell, right?
Now, look at the front, at the rear, under and over it. You have a charging port, a screen, maybe a headphone jack, and, oh …. What are those? Two high-resolution cameras!
In 2017 approximately 2.32 billion people possess at least one smartphone. That’s roughly a third of the entire world population, each of them with a camera conveniently stored in their pocket coupled with a GPS sensor.
In most cases using people’s smartphone cameras would make for a terrible surveillance program. After all, most of the time people are doing anything worth watching, the phone is either in the person’s pocket or laying flat on a table with the camera looking up at the roof.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that there are places in the homes of many people living in developed countries that are constantly under surveillance by some sort of camera or microphone installed. We have smart TVs, facial recognition systems, and home assistance devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo. All of these things are constantly looking and listening to you at an angle that is convenient for surveillance.
And it’s already happened. Samsung had to warn customers that its TVs are listening to their living room chatter.
Even if governments aren’t looking to tap into your devices to see what you’re talking about with your significant other or your kids, hackers might be interested in eavesdropping a little.
No matter how many patches a piece of technology has, it can still be hacked in one way or another. Never underestimate the ingenuity of peeping tom hackers.
Amazon Echo, for example, has a vulnerability that potentially can transform it into a wiretap. While we’re at it, let’s also talk about the fact that some baby monitors are shockingly easy to access remotely, meaning from thousands of miles away. In some cases more mischievous folks would even talk through the monitor, making their voices heard to the parents and scaring them out of their wits.
Privacy vs. Convenience: Living a Balanced Life
All of these stories are scary, but here’s the kicker: They’re all easily preventable. We’ve had convenient technologies waved around in front of us for a long time, but we often forget that we are sacrificing certain things for that convenience. One of those things is our own personal privacy.
When you buy a device, a doodad, an appliance, or some television set, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I live without something that has a camera and/or microphone? If the answer is yes, then don’t buy camera/microphone-laden devices.
- If I must have one of these, is there a way that I can use it without connecting it to the Internet? If the answer is yes, then don’t allow it to access the Web.
- If I must connect the device to the Internet in order for it to function, is there a way to disable the camera and/or microphone on a hardware level when I don’t want to be seen or heard? If the answer is yes, then do it!
- If the camera/microphone is always on, is there any way to turn off the device itself? If the answer is yes, turn it off when you’re not using it.
- If the device must constantly be on (as is the case with refrigerators, for example), am I absolutely sure I can’t just live with a mundane normal device that doesn’t have Skynet-esque technology attached to it? If the answer is yes, go back to square one and purchase something else. (Hint: you should answer “yes” as much as possible.)
If you value your privacy more than your convenience, you should avoid purchasing devices with microphones or cameras if at all possible. In the event you find yourself unable to do that, try adopting practices that will ensure you’re getting the most privacy out of the devices you use.
Do you have any other privacy-enhancing tips that you follow? Tell us in a comment!