When you’re traveling on an airplane, you probably try your hardest to avoid eye contact with anyone. Smile at the flight attendant when you board and give a nod to the stranger next to you when you first sit down, but other than that it’s all hiding behind a sleep mask or a good book. But some experts fear that, even if you’re keeping to yourself, someone else’s eyes might be on you—and they may not even be on the plane. Recently, passengers on Singapore Airlines and American Airlines flights noticed something odd about the in-flight entertainment screens in front of them: They had cameras underneath, leading to the concern that the airlines were spying on their passengers.
For now, you can breathe easy—the TVs came ready-equipped with the cameras, and the airlines insist they have never turned them on and have no intention to in the future. And while Singapore and American have been the two to get the most attention for the cameras, the recording devices seem to be fairly standard: There are (inactive) cameras on Qantas, United, and Emirates flights. The idea is that in the future, airlines might want to use cameras and microphones for features like seat-to-seat video conferencing. Until then, the cameras are sitting unused (and unusable without new software in some cases). Still, the cameras making news has people wary about secrets airlines don’t want to tell you.
Regardless of the airlines’ current intentions for the cameras, some experts remain wary. It’s not so much that the airlines themselves would want to spy on you while you nibble on that free biscotti, but that hackers might find ways to get ahold of those recordings. “These may potentially result in VIP passengers’ communications being eavesdropped [on], passport data being photographed while filling customs declarations, [or] entering of secret PIN codes or passwords to unlock users’ devices [being] recorded on video,” malware researcher Vitaly Kamluk told CNN Travel; it was Kamluk’s tweet about Singapore Airlines’ cameras that brought them into the public eye.
Others are quick to point out that a camera on a flight where you’re already surrounded by strangers is probably the least of your worries. “Cameras on aircraft are in one of the most secure environments possible with limited connectivity that is constantly monitored by outside companies,” points out the Airline Passenger Experience Association in a written statement. “In contrast, the greatest risk to airline passenger privacy breaches [comes] from their own smartphones, tablets, cameras, computers, and smart devices used in private settings.” For instance, you’ll want to watch out for these 16 clear signs you’re about to be hacked.
If the idea of having a camera staring at you for an entire long-haul flight gives you the heebie-jeebies—even if it isn’t on—a simple solution could be to carry a BandAid or a pack of small Post-it Notes with you. Tear off a sheet, stick it over the camera, and voilà! A physical block guarding you from spies. Now that you know how to stop potential spies, learn how to fix these 16 air travel mistakes you need to stop making.