United and Delta Cover Their Seatback Cameras in Bid to Stop Freaking You Out – Gizmodo

United and Delta Cover Their Seatback Cameras in Bid to Stop Freaking You Out - Gizmodo
United, Delta and American Airlines cover seat-back cameras with stickers following privacy backlash
BuzzFeed News last week reported on the small, black stickers that now cover these cameras on Uniteds planes, adding that the airline will continue to cover the cameras as it adds premium seats on additional aircraft, per a spokesperson for the carrier. A photo of the sticker was snapped by Sri Ray, a former BuzzFeed site reliability engineer.

Indeed, the cameras have been seen on the entertainment units of several carriers, though all have said that the cameras were not operational. A spokesperson for United Airlines told Gizmodo in a statement on Monday that the cameras on its units, which it says are only found on United Premium Plus seatbacks, are a standard feature that manufacturers of the system included for possible future purposes such as video conferencing.

As with many other airlines, some of our premium seats have in-flight entertainment systems that came with cameras installed by the manufacturer, the spokesperson said. None of these cameras were ever activated and we had no plans to use them in the future, however we took the additional step to cover the cameras.

Earlier this month, a passenger with JetBlue took to Twitter after finding that facial recognition technology appeared to have replaced boarding passes with the airline. A public Twitter discussion revealed that the technology tapped into biometric information from the Customs and Border Protection database. 

Likewise, a Delta Air Lines spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that it too is now covering the cameras.

Speaking to Buzzfeed News, the carrier said that all cameras — found in the back of premium seats — will now be covered, but their purpose was never to monitor passengers. Rather, the cameras were included for possible future applications such as video conferencing.

A limited number of Delta in-flight entertainment screens have non-functional cameras, included by the manufacturer, the spokesperson said by email. Though Delta does not have plans to install the necessary software to use them, we have added covers as a visible way to reassure customers.

United Airlines was quick to respond to requests concerning the cameras, unsurprising given the airlines recent PR disasters relating to the violent removal of a passenger by security and the death of a puppy that staff insisted be stowed in an overhead bin.

American Airlines told Gizmodo in a statement that it is reviewing the situation, emphasizing (as other carriers did) that the in-unit cameras on its own planes have never been activated and American is not considering using them.

A minor uproar sparked up around the cameras after a passenger aboard a Singapore Air flight asked the airline in a February tweet to explain how it is used. BuzzFeed News reported later that month that United and Delta planes also have the camera-equipped in-flight devices.

A spokesperson for Panasonic Avionics Corporation, which makes the entertainment units used by United and Delta, did not immediately return a request for comment about the covers being used by the carriers. However, a spokesperson for Panasonic told BuzzFeed News in February that it would never activate any feature or functionality within an IFE system without explicit direction from an airline customer.

“These cameras on our newer IFE systems were provided by the original equipment manufacturers,” the airline said, responding directly to the tweet. “We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras.”

These in-flight cameras are the just latest example of airlines introducing tech—or in this case potential tech—and failing to properly communicate to their customers how or why its there. Another recent example is the JetBlue Airways face recognition fiasco, which, as Gizmodo reported last week, is not limited to JetBlue and is already being used at more than a dozen airports across the country.

Stickers have been spotted which now cover these cameras and the airline says that all new premium seats will also receive the same treatment.

Like both Delta and United noted in their statements, the sticker-over-camera system—suggested by a number of Twitter users back in February—is really just a gesture to ensure their customers that they arent being monitored. It is annoying, however, that they didnt do more to curb suspicion about them right out of the gate, perhaps by letting their customers know that they werent operational or communicating what their purpose was, to begin with. But if stickers do the job for peace of mind, then hey, I get it.

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United, Delta and American Airlines are taking steps to cover cameras on seat backs after the practice sparked a privacy backlash. 

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

Many consumers were outraged when they learned of the controversial cameras embedded within the entertainment systems of plane seats. 

“None of these cameras were ever activated and we had no plans to use them in the future,” a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “However, we took the additional step to cover the cameras.”

It even sparked an inquiry from two US senators who demanded to know what the cameras were being used for and if they were recording unsuspecting passengers. 

The mini shooters (like those you’d find above a laptop display) are apparently standard among in-flight entertainment systems, built in by the manufacturer for future uses like seat-to-seat video conferencing.

Delta, United and American Airlines are covering the cameras on seat backs after recent criticisms around privacy. Pictured is a seat back camera on a Singapore Airlines flight

High-tech devices, like in-flight entertainment screens or smart home security systems, have a lot of moving parts. Enough that companies sometimes forget to mention certain bits of hardware.

As with many other airlines, some of our premium seats have in-flight entertainment systems that came with cameras installed by the manufacturer, a United spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. 

Google was forced in February to admit its Nest Secure features a “hidden” microphone, which is built into the system, but not disclosed in the product specifications.

None of these cameras were ever activated and we had no plans to use them in the future, however we took the additional step to cover the cameras. 

If that’s true, though, why not start by covering the lenses? Or at least informing passengers of their existence and inactivity, instead of hoping no one will notice.

The cameras are a standard feature that manufacturers of the system included for possible future purposes such as video conferencing, the spokesperson added.

Some American Airlines aircraft have cameras in their newer seat-back entertainment systems. The company said the cameras werent turned on and that it will cover them   

Following backlash over cameras installed in some planes’ seat-back screens, United Airlines reportedly covered the tiny lenses embedded in its premium pews.

A Delta spokesperson told BuzzFeed that it also plans to cover the cameras in order to reassure customers and said it doesnt plan use them. 

“These cameras have been disabled on our aircraft,” and there are no plans to develop any features using [them],” the firm promised.

An American Airlines spokesperson also said its cameras werent turned on and that it will install covers on the cameras. 

Much of the debate about the seat back cameras was sparked after a traveler posted a tweet questioning a tiny lens spotted on the back of a seat of a Singapore Airlines jet. 

Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seat back on board of Singapore Airlines, user Vitaly Kamluk tweeted. 

Any expert opinion of whether this is a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used?

In response, Singapore Airlines official Twitter account said the cameras were never turned on and were installed by the original manufacturer.

Larger screens are used in premium passenger classes on Delta flights and all of them come with embedded cameras. The company has since said it will cover up the cameras

Some of the in-flight entertainment systems appear to have been manufactured by Panasonic Avionics, according to Digital Trends. 

Panasonic Avionics counts American Airlines, Emirates and Japan Airlines as companies that use the systems, among others. 

Panasonic Avionics takes airline passenger privacy very seriously, the company told Digital Trends. 

While the company does include cameras as part of its in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems, at no time have these cameras been activated or used in any manner by either Panasonic Avionics or its customers. 

The cameras have simply been included to support potential future applications like seat-to-seat video conferencing, the company added. 

The controversy surrounding the seat back cameras was enough to attract the attention of US senators Jeff Merkley and John Kennedy, who sent a joint letter to eight US carriers seeking more information about the cameras. 

Delta Air Lines, Southwest, Frontier, United Airlines, Spirit, American Airlines, Jet Blue and Alaska Air are among those addressed in the letter. 

The last thing passengers need to worry about is the idea that airlines or hackers may be spying on them while they eat their pretzels, Merkley told CNN. 

Its time to protect Americans privacy and get rid of hidden cameras and microphones on airplanes.    

It comes as airports and airlines have increasingly come under fire for their use of facial recognition at security checkpoints.