If you’re traveling on Singapore Airlines, pack headphones (not AirPods), comfy compression socks, an eye mask, and maybe a stack of Post-it Notes to cover the surveillance camera that was discovered in the in-flight entertainment system.
Earlier this month it was discovered that Singapore Airlines was one of several companies secretly recording customers’ screens while using their app on an iPhone. Now, there’s the camera, which was discovered by a traveler who tweeted out the discovery, asking Singapore Airlines to clarify how it was being used. The airline responded quickly, explaining that it was indeed a camera that came built into the in-flight entertainment system, but it swears the camera was not in use.
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
Soon other tweeters joined the conversation, asking a few more questions about where exactly the camera had been located and whether it was saved for the chumps in coach or a special privilege for the privileged few in business class. The airline replied,”the cameras are in selected Business, Premium Economy and Economy Class.”
We reached out to Singapore Airlines for comment and the airline sent this statement, which reflects everything it tweeted:
Some of our newer IFE systems provided by the original equipment manufacturers do have a camera provisioned and embedded in the hardware. These cameras have been intended by the manufacturers for future developments. These cameras are permanently disabled on our aircraft and cannot be activated on board. We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras.
If that response sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because just today Google had a similar whoopsie moment: It forgot to mention to anyone, or list anywhere in its technical specifications, that Nest has a built-in microphone. While Singapore Airlines claims it doesn’t intend to use the cameras anytime soon, Google decided its secret-not-secret microphone was the perfect way to integrate Google Assistant into Nest.
And some companies do have a few ideas for how in-seat cameras on airplanes could be put to work. A few years ago, Panasonic Avionics, which makes many of the in-flight entertainment systems—including the Thales Group systems on Singapore Airlines—announced plans to enter into a strategic partnership with the biometric data company Tascent. It’s been discussing the possibility of bringing biometric passenger identification to the seat back in front of you, which could include a future where customs officials won’t ask you to stand in line, but instead just stare at your in-flight entertainment system.
Cool and convenient, but also creepy. For now, though, the cameras are just there, not in use, simply waiting to be covered by a Post-it Note.