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Reports of Tiny Seatback Cameras on American Airlines Planes Spark Privacy Concerns

Privacy watchdogs have seized on evidence that the inflight entertainment systems in premium cabins on some American Airlines Boeing 777 planes are equipped with small cameras capable of monitoring passengers during flights. The airline counters that the cameras “have never been activated” and were never designed to spy on customers in the first place.  

A passenger on a recent transpacific flight was taken aback to find a small video camera in the seatback in front of him. The subtly-placed video camera was not planted by nefarious elements, but was, in fact, intentionally installed as part of the in-flight entertainment system in premium economy seats on some American Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft. 

“I am what one would call security paranoid,” said Sri Ray, who first raised the alarm after discovering the small camera lens during a recent flight, told BuzzFeed. “I observe tech in day-to-day life and wonder how a malicious person can use it in bad ways. When I looked at the shiny new screens in the new premium economy cabin of AA, I noticed a small circle at the bottom. Upon closer inspection, it was definitely a camera.”

Finding a camera above a video monitor isn’t exactly surprising in this day and age, but lingering questions about why a camera would be installed in an airplane seat in the first place have raised legitimate concerns among privacy advocates. American Airlines officials say the cameras simply came as standard equipment on the off-the-shelf devices.

“They have never been activated, and American is not considering using them,” airline spokesperson Ross Feinstein told BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen. “Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by multiple airlines. Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control in-flight entertainment.” 

Nguyen points out that Singapore Airlines recently faced a similar consumer backlash after passenger-posted images of seatback video cameras on the airline’s planes went viral on social media. The publicity prompted the airline to make an unusual statement promising that it was not using spy cams to monitor passengers in-flight. Even consumers not inclined to mistrust the airline raised concerns that the seatback cameras could be exploited by hackers. 

“We would like to share that some of our newer in-flight entertainment systems provided by the original equipment manufacturers do have a camera embedded in the hardware,” Singapore Airlines officials said in a statement at the time, defending itself against accusations of violating customer privacy. “These cameras have been disabled on our aircraft, and there are no plans to develop any features using the cameras.”

[Source: American Airlines]

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MikeFly February 25, 2019

My EK flight in F on an A380 had them. I asked the purser about them and she said that on the current new 777's and eventually the A380's they are used when ordering room service. When you call they have a screen so that they can see you and supposedly vice versa. Ok reasonable, it would be interesting to check if the cameras are in biz and Y, where the service does not exist.

MikeFromTokyo February 22, 2019

Interesting. Those concerned by the cameras could travel with masking tape or something similar to physically block the cameras. Or, AA could similarly cover them if as they say there are o plans to activate.