Cover up to avoid unwanted close-ups
Video surveillance is a sensitive issue, as the discussions about more cameras in public places show. It is no wonder that cameras on devices used in private areas which are capable of taking close-up images of users are seen even more critically. A recent study by BITKOM shows that every fourth user (27 percent) of laptops, tablet computers and smartphones deliberately covers the camera on their device. It seems that the tape stuck across the camera on a user’s computer is not a sign of untidiness or a DIY repair. It is a shame that the study did not separate findings between laptops and tablets and smartphones. While users often cover laptop cameras, mobile devices which pose a greater risk due to their size and proximity to the user are often left with a clear view.
Evidently it is inconvenient to clear the lens before taking a photo, but if 38% of 14 to 29 year olds are afraid of being spied on, then they should also keep an eye on their other mobile devices. Mobile devices now always have one or two cameras. The microphone, which is essential for telephone calls, can also become a problem from a privacy perspective. There is plenty of malicious software that can take over an end device and secretly record video and audio, even for mobile operating systems. And if you look a little closer, the various voice assistants offered by Google, Microsoft and Amazon are nothing more than eavesdroppers lurking in the background – just with good intentions.
Security, and in this case above all privacy, is an inconvenient issue and always has been so. The opposite of security is not insecurity but convenience. Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana make life easier and more convenient which is exactly why these tools are so popular, even for the most conservative users. The manufacturers do not publish exact sales figures, but Amazon's Echo is said to be at home in at least half a million households in Germany alone.
Data protection and privacy concerns will neither stop nor slow down the march of smartphone cameras and voice assistants. All that remains is the hope that manufacturers will act responsibly and that users are aware of the risks of the technology. Taping over a laptop camera is not a bad idea in fact, it stops unwanted images being taken even if malware has gained control over the camera. Small lens covers are a slightly more elegant solution for extra privacy. These webcam covers are currently very popular promotional gifts at trade fairs, but they are also available for a few euros in stores. Unfortunately, experience has shown that the covers do not last very long on smartphones.
Voice assistants can be powered off completely or their microphones can be muted. In a few years' time, no household will probably want to be without these helpers – they are already too convenient and popular. However, since these devices do not work without a permanent connection to the Internet, users need to take suitable security measures. This means that the router must be reasonably protected or secured by a professional, software must be kept up to date and no ports should be open for external access. If access from on the road is necessary, it must be secured via a VPN. Sufficiently secure VPN clients for private use are now installed in all operating systems and VPN servers offer better routers. VPN clients from professional providers are even more secure. In addition, there are also VPN clients for Android which means that Google's mobile operating system can connect to the home network securely at low cost.