Airline industry trade group, APEX reveals that it has long recommended that member airlines include cameras in all new inflight entertainment systems. The organization says privacy concerns should remain “paramount” while carriers remain on the cutting edge of new technological developments intended to enhance the passenger experience.
Reports of tiny seatback cameras installed in commercial airline cabins have caused a groundswell of consumer backlash and raised alarm among privacy advocates. In recent weeks, officials at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Singapore Airlines were forced to release statements explaining that the carriers do not use and do not intend to use the cameras installed in some seatback in-flight entertainment systems.
It's not just Singapore Airlines. In Sept 2018, @sricola noticed something strange on the seat back TV aboard an American Airlines flight to Tokyo: a camera https://t.co/31QKj9K0Ki pic.twitter.com/i7AtnfJurA
— nic nguyen (@itsnicolenguyen) February 21, 2019
Airline industry trade organization, Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), however, says it has, for years, encouraged member airlines to include cameras when installing any new IFE systems. The group says fears of the devices being abused are “misplaced.”
“Since the advent of the smartphone a decade ago, airlines realized that they need to be thinking ahead to serve the future travel experience,” APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader said in a statement defending camera-equipped airplane seats. “The systems selected years ago are now on aircraft today and in many cases will be on aircraft for the next decade. With explicit customer permission, airlines will be able to provide better service and safety to their passengers using new technology.”
APEX suggests some of the possible future passenger-friendly uses for seatback cameras might include the ability to video chat with the airline, crew members, fellow passengers or friends and family on the ground. The group says passengers might also take advantage of the cameras for consultations about medical concerns and as with any other camera-equipped personal mobile device, two-way-video capabilities could potentially be used for more interactive gaming and entertainment options.
Hi there, these cameras, which were provided by the original equipment manufacturers, were disabled on our aircraft. We have no plans to enable any features using the cameras.
— Singapore Airlines (@SingaporeAir) February 18, 2019
Leader also offers some more intrusive uses for the cameras as well (some of which will not likely help to ease privacy concerns). In its latest release, APEX suggested cameras might be used by advanced artificial intelligence to aid in customer service and security enhancements. The organization suggests an advanced AI might use the seatback cameras to “intelligently watch for visual clues for needed service.” APEX even suggests the seatback cameras might be beneficially used to keep an eye on problem passengers.
“In the future, airlines should consider camera use when a passenger has been flagged as an on-board security risk,” APEX advocates. “With law enforcement permission, in-flight cameras may in the future be able to reduce human trafficking, violence against fellow passengers, and sexual assault instances on aircraft.”
Leader says he has been a proponent of video-based in-cabin technology since even before his 2015 keynote speech encouraging the industry to embrace the devices. The caveat, he said, is that airlines obtain “explicit permission” from passengers whenever the technology is used.
“Today, airline passengers are typically tracked outside the aircraft dozens of times on a typical journey through stores, security, roadways, and airports by cameras without any permission,” according to a statement from the organization. “In contrast, airlines only want to use cameras in the future with permission when technology has advanced to offer personalized service improvements that passengers desire.”