Eran Shlomo

@eran_39947

Who watches you ?

We are in the age where data privacy is becoming an urgent issue, In this post Ill cover a matter that I thought about around a year ago, the privacy led (and how mobile phones got away with it).

If you google privacy led you wont find anything meaningful regarding this post, so lets start with : what is privacy led ?

What is privacy led ?

Back at the days I used to work for Intel RealSense group (A very exciting group, You get to see a lot of cool stuff), I came to learn about the term privacy led there, It was used both by us and our customers to describe the small led on the camera, indicating the camera is working and that video is actively being streamed to your PC. You can find this led on every web-camera and on your laptops these days.

Once we got into drones, robotics and other devices (Cameras are going everywhere these days) the requirement for privacy led dropped. It seems there was active regulation around this led when it cames to webcams and PC (The camera on your laptop considered a webcam). This regulation didn't continue to robots and drones.

No photos please

Why privacy led is important ?

The name say it by itself , If someone is taking your video this led is an indication that you agree for your privacy to go away. The privacy led indicates that even if you own the device, the device is hackable and that losing control over the device doesn't mean losing control over your privacy.

This is becoming even much more important these as we see it everyday in dataloop.ai, It is no longer people who watch you but machines as well and they never get board, never limited by the amount of cameras and remember for good.

In these days Facebook is questioned aggressively regarding its user’s data handling and I believe we are just scraping the surface here when it comes to data collection and capitalization, Not just by Facebook but by the entire tech world.

A great example for this data abundance a site offering access to many cameras that didn't change their password, Maybe your there as well ?

If one thing is for sure then data sharing simplicity is required, It should be clear to the person being tracked that he is tracked if for some reason his device is hacked.

Checkout this famous photo of how Mark zuckerberg is handling his privacy led settings.

The two privacy domains

I distinguish between two privacy domains as they will be treated very differently, The public domain and the private domain.

Though in many cases the line is blurred,I believe eventually regulators will sort every case into one of these.

The personal domain

The personal domain is your home or device. Its a place you own the rights for data collection (fancy word for video or voice capturing).

The personal domain should become much more protected, just like webcams notify you they are active I would expect regulators to make sure every personal device to comply with these, both for voice and video under the assumption every device is hackable.

The weird exception

Why do cell phones don’t get the privacy led ? My feeling is that since mobile phones have started as a digital cameras they got away with it, It doesnt make sense to put a led on handheld camera device — you are choosing to be exposed by clicking on a button, but since the year 2000 cell phones have upgraded themselves to fully functional hackable computers with embedded cameras, regulation hasn't caught up with the change and the industry has no motivation doing it by itself.

The public domain

On the public domain privacy is dead, Get use to it.

Since the year 2016 we have more cameras on the planet then humans and this grows exponentially. We are entering an era where there are cameras everywhere, They are smart enough to monitor everyone and have enough compute power to do it all the time. So just like mama said, Behave yourself in public.

This can go very far though , for example in China there is already a plan for large scale surveillance system, giving every person a public behavior score that effects every aspect of life,The plan(Social credit system) was initiated in 2014 and going online these days — check it out here.

Different approach from regulators is seen on the EU, where the new GDPR regulations are going effective in may 2018 to protect personal data much better. AFAIK GDPR dont deal with privacy leds.

How secured is the privacy led ?

Kind-of …

Its very dependent on the manufacturers and operating systems, but in most cases one of the following overrides will work:

  • Camera settings
  • Registry hacking (Windows)
  • Driver settings
  • Camera firmware (The code on the camera itself) hacking.

One thing worth mentioning is that Apple mackbooks have the led connected to power, which all of the above will fail to override the privacy led but even Apple got some heat on the matter. You can say a lot of things about Apple but they do keep top priority to their users experience, privacy included.

Summary

Privacy leds should get into full gear on every personal device, both for video and sound capturing.

Regulators should apply simple step for data privacy on our personal sensors, put privacy led on personal devices and make sure they are Apple style privacy leds.

As for everything else but your own device and home, Get use to it — You are being watched, in some countries more then others.

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