When walking through an office or a café, you’ll notice people utilizing a variety of materials to conceal their webcam. Tape, post-it notes, folded business cards, stickers, their thumb, or a marlin are all possibilities. But it’s chunky peanut butter that I put all over my webcam. It is safer than smooth.
None of those items were included with the laptop when it was purchased, and it’s easy to dismiss placing anything there as neurotic. The concept that someone wants to see via your specific webcam makes us feel a little egocentric and tense, as if we’re leaving our house and pleading to one in particular, “Please, no cameras.”
But, although it’s crazy that individuals are taping their webcams, it’s even more absurd that it’s actually a good idea.
Webcam Hacking Is a Real Thing
Almost everything can be hacked, and I’m not just talking about the title of my new children’s pop-up book. There have been several reports over the years of webcams being hijacked by persons trying to spy on innocent people, frequently people they know. A student found in 2009 that his school-provided laptop was covertly recording him (without giving him additional credit! ), and several women have had their webcams hacked, with the scenario frequently progressing into blackmail.
Secret papers reveal the NSA acquiring backdoor access to web cams at the federal level (this can’t be good), as well as Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ accomplishing the same, all without the benefit of the webcam indication light illuminating. That is really impolite.
Even without the innumerable terrifying stories, the concept of a camera on your laptop is strange to begin with. A camera is effectively directed at your face at all times. Not your shin, elbow, or toes, but your face. And we purchased it. We all went to a business and basically requested, “Please have one camera always focused at my face.”
To be sure, I’m completely aware that no one is staring at me. This was obvious in high school. This so-called hazard is far worse for women and those with children, and the last time I looked, I was neither. It’s still uncommon for a webcam to be hacked, and I always feel a little stupid when I drape something over my webcam at night like it’s a parrot.
Perhaps it’s more about the principle. For years, I used a laptop without a webcam and loved pretending at business meetings that my connection was terrible, and I’ll frequently go to a real person cashier at a grocery store rather than utilizing one of those self-checkout machines that creepily displays your picture back to you. The expression on my face when I’m buying Bagel Bites at one a.m. is unnecessary information.
What You Can Do
While we are all aware that cameras are around, it seems reasonable to do everything we can to keep a few of them from staring at us. Even Mark Zuckerberg, who has more information on people than the Library of Congress, covers his webcam with tape.
Fortunately, in addition to gum and blankets, you can purchase little webcam-blocking clips that allow you to choose whether or not you want to be seen. More computers should come standard with these. Your webcam may also be blocked, and it’s always a good idea to have an antiviral program as a backup. And, if possible, try to be extremely dull in front of it.Don’t be shocked if hackers figure out a method to disable it as well.