Your Privacy at Risk

The article below was originally written and published September 1st, 1998!

Late one recent night, I’m busy working on some presentation slides. A client wants to prepare their network for the video-to-the-desktop revolution. The solution is complex with many nuances and facets racing around in circles in my mind.

I’m staring, with my focus going in and out, at the half-drawn picture on my screen (a late-night tendency developed thanks to the Internet). My focus clarifies and I’m staring at that little camera I have drawn on the top of each workstation. The eye.

I sit straight up in seat thinking: How do you know that little bugger is on or off? There’s no light. There’s no beep.

In the eighties when travel budgets were slashed in favor of video teleconferences – hail PictureTel and others – we all developed etiquette for video conferencing. Later video conferencing equipment models even had remote control of the camera zoom, location and there were memory settings, which could be used to zoom in and focus on speakers/presenters. We became videoconference junkies.

Then it all changed. I personally believe it was that United Airlines commercial: The CEO of a firm calls all his sales people together and hands out airline tickets because their biggest customer is about to fire the firm due to the impersonal nature of faxes, phone mail, and video conferences. The firm had lost touch with its customers. Within months of that commercial it seemed that CEO’s and VP’s everywhere were sending people for face-to-face visits. The era of the videoconference was sent gently into remission.

Those videoconference systems were pretty clunky compared to this new little lipstick-sized camera that sits on top of the screen. I see they sell for as little as $100 now and they are likely to be free with every PC in the near future, just like sound cards and speakers are today. You always knew when the old style systems came on – a door dramatically and mechanically opened. Every time someone made a remote adjustment (zoom, etc.) you heard the whirring of motors and gears. This is not the case with the personal PC video cameras. No lights, no sound.

Here is my prediction: This is going to be one of those appliances that causes a major law suit to be filed on behalf of someone’s privacy being violated. Someone is going to watch. Heck, it’s OK for the corporation to watch you in the rest room in the interest of preventing theft. So why not watch you in your office?

These issues made me toss and turn after I tried to go to bed: mulling the possibility of my privacy and my personal security being violated. I like the idea mothers can watch their children in day-care. I like the idea of monitoring my home remotely. But how do I stop others from doing it without my knowledge. Software – you say? Excuse me while I finish downloading yet another patch for Outlook Express for file attachment security problems…

You will be pleased that I did get some sleep that night, as should you, especially if you already own one of these devices. The solution is simple, and I’ll offer more than one! Turn off the PC. That’ll work. Second, I have a new use for your favorite size/style of tissue box. [I’ve already applied for the patent on this so don’t bother.] Cut a hole in the bottom about ½” larger than the size of the camera you purchase and place the box over the camera until you want to use it. Sleep came quickly.

It will be very interesting to see how this develops. I left this out of my presentation, by the way. I decided to write this article instead.

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