February 22, 2019 2:12 pm

Some airplane seats have built-in cameras – but companies say they’ve never been used

Cameras on a Singapore Airlines flight.

Twitter / @VKamluk

A viral photo shows something you might not expect: a camera lens looking back at you in your airplane seat.

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The photo posted online partially shows the entertainment system on a Singapore Airlines flight — along with a small lens below the familiar screen.

“Any expert opinion of whether this a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used?” Twitter user Vitaly Kamluk wrote.

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Singapore Airlines replied and clarified that they are cameras, but are not in use.

“These cameras on our newer IFE systems were provided by the original equipment manufacturers. We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras. Thank you,” officials wrote on Twitter.

Singapore Airlines isn’t alone — Buzzfeed reports a former employee saw a similar camera on an American Airlines aircraft.

Officials from American Airlines said the cameras are a feature provided by the manufacturer of the in-flight entertainment systems on many aircraft.

“Manufacturers of those systems have included cameras for possible future uses such as seat-to-seat video conferencing. While these cameras are present on some American Airlines in-flight entertainment systems as delivered from the manufacturer, they have never been activated and American is not considering using them,” an official told CNET.

WATCH: Travel consultant Claire Newell explains common aircraft features few passengers are aware of

But people online disparaged the choice to add cameras in airplane seats, saying they could watch you at all times.

Privacy expert Ann Cavoukian expressed concerns about the inclusion of the cameras, saying there’s no transparency and no accountability.

She said there were concerns that customers weren’t informed of the cameras beforehand, and that there was no explained use for the cameras right away — even if they are “disabled.”

“If they actually engage this, they’re going to have to explain … to their customers how there may be cameras on their seats right in front of them,” she said.

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She also said that if a company uses cameras, the video should be encrypted and only used for its specific purpose.

People don’t want cameras in every aspect of our lives, said Cavoukian, who is Ontario’s former privacy commissioner.

She pointed to Alberta’s Fairview Mall as an example of how people were outraged about the widespread effects of video cameras in a mall. In that instance, the mall was using facial recognition to track the shopping habits of individuals.

READ MORE: Alberta Privacy Commissioner investigating use of facial recognition software in Calgary malls

The Alberta privacy commissioner is currently investigating that case.

For now, the cameras appear to be only in newly built planes, “but the implication is that, eventually, they will be in all the airplanes,” Cavoukian explained, “and that’s not something we want to encourage.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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