Airline seats now equipped with cameras – for passengers

There is now another place the cameras could start looking at you – from 30,000 feet.

Newer entertainment systems on certain aircraft operated by American Airlines AAL,
-0.58%
, United Airlines UAL,
-0.85%
and Singapore Airlines SINGY,
+ 0.14%
have cameras, and are likely to be on planes used by other carriers as well.

American, United and Singapore all said on Friday that they had never activated the cameras and did not intend to use them.

However, the companies that make the entertainment systems are installing cameras to offer future options such as seat-to-seat video conferencing, according to an American Airlines spokesperson.

A passenger on a Singapore flight posted a photo of the seatback display last week, and the tweet has been shared several hundred times and garnered media attention. Buzzfeed first reported that the cameras are also on some US planes.

Airlines have pointed out that they haven’t added the cameras – manufacturers have built them into entertainment systems. American systems are manufactured by Panasonic PCRFY,
+ 3.95%
, while Singapore uses Panasonic and Thales THLEF,
+1.67%
, according to airline representatives. Neither Panasonic nor Thales responded immediately for comment.

As they shrink, cameras are integrated into more and more devices, including laptops and smartphones. The presence of cameras in aircraft entertainment systems was known in aviation circles at least two years ago, but not among the traveling public.

Seth Miller, a reporter who wrote on the matter in 2017, believes equipment makers have overlooked the privacy implications. There were already cameras on planes – though not that intrusive – and companies assumed passengers would exchange their images for convenience, as they do with facial recognition technology at immigration checkpoints, did he declare.

“Now they’re facing a backlash from a small vocal group that questions the value of the system that isn’t even active,” Miller said.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the cameras were installed in “high-end economy” seats on 82 Boeing 777 BAs,
-0.87%
and Airbus A330-200 EADSY,
-1.20%
jets. American owns nearly 1,000 planes.

“Cameras are a standard feature on many in-flight entertainment systems used by several airlines,” he said.

Singapore spokesman James Boyd said the cameras are on 84 Airbus A350, Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 and 787. The carrier has 117 planes.

While airlines say they have no plans to use the cameras, a TWTR Twitter,
-0.47%
A user named Vitaly Kamluk, who took the camera photo on his flight to Singapore, suggested that, just to be safe, carriers should stick stickers on the lenses.

“The cameras are probably not in use now,” he tweeted. “But if they are wired, operational, supplied with a microphone, all it takes is a clever hack to use them on more than 84 planes and spy on passengers.”


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