Your laptop webcam isn’t the only camera you should be worried about.
Take a look at your smartphone. Perhaps you’re reading this story on it, and the device is planted firmly in your hands. Maybe you’re on your laptop, and your phone is resting face up on your desk. Now, focus your attention on the phone’s selfie camera. Try to imagine what’s in its field of view.
Unless your phone’s forward-facing camera has a cover on it, you may not be the only one with that picture in their mind — or on their computer screen. Unless that is, you have a selfie-cam cover.
It wasn’t long ago that the idea of covering a laptop webcam was considered “paranoid,” as if to suggest that only the tinfoil-hat-wearing would think such a measure necessary. That consensus began to shift, in part, when Mark Zuckerberg accidentally revealed that even the King of Sharing had tape obscuring the view from his laptop’s camera.
There are real reasons to believe that hackers — both state actors and otherwise — gain access to innocent people’s computer webcams. Just ask security researcher Patrick Wardle, whose work helped uncover a 13-year-old strain of Mac malware that was developed seemingly to spy on regular people through their webcams.
“[A] hacker built this to spy on users for probably perverse reasons,” Wardle explained to Mashable in 2017.
So why should the selfie camera be different? Sure, it’s on a mobile device which runs on a completely different operating system than a computer, but as the disastrous iOS FaceTime bug demonstrated earlier this year even privacy-focused Apple makes mistakes. Hackers love mistakes.
For those who don’t recall, in that aforementioned FaceTime screwup, a teenager discovered that it was possible both to listen to and watch people through their iPhones — even if they had not accepted an incoming FaceTime call.
Pretty unnerving stuff.
Danny O’Brien, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of strategy, told Mashable that while the bigger issue is that people should be able to physically disable the camera’s on their devices, putting stickers on selfie cameras serves as a Band-Aid.
“The sticker shows that there’s a problem that people are trying to solve, and it’s also an indicator of what people are worried about,” he explained over email. “There’s a particular vulnerability to being watched, and some of the most targeted of groups, including women, are targeted expressly to get images of them.”
Of course, people like to use their selfie cameras, so knocking them out completely Edward Snowden style isn’t on most phone owners’ list of options. A sticker, on the other hand, is an easy compromise. The sticky part of a Post-it Note works great, and you can remove it with practically zero residue when you need access to that front-facing camera.
Notably, if you’re frequently taking the sticker off and putting it back on, you’ll probably need to replace it with a new one once a week. However, as you’re only using enough of the Post-it to cover the camera, a single Note will go a long way.
And yes, (at least in this case) I practice what I preach. This writer has used the Post-it Note technique for a few years, and it works wonders. While every now and then I get some weird looks from strangers or friends when they see that I cover my selfie camera, just like with laptop webcam covers it’s likely they’ll all be doing the same before too long.
Or, at least, they probably should.