Singapore Airlines passengers unsettled by cameras in seat-back displays

If you’re the kind of person that covers the camera on your computer with tape (just like Mark Zuckerberg does), then you probably wouldn’t be too happy if you found a camera on an aircraft’s in-flight entertainment display just as you were settling into your seat.

Singapore Airlines has been fielding complaints in recent days after a number of passengers expressed concern over a camera embedded in seat-back displays on some of its aircraft. But the airline insists the cameras aren’t connected.

Singapore Airlines passenger Vitaly Kamluk posted several photos of the camera on Twitter earlier this week, adding the comment: “Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seat back on board of Singapore Airlines. Any expert opinion of whether this a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used?”

A short while later, the Asian carrier responded directly to Kamluk’s tweet, explaining that the cameras are not in use and that it has no intention of activating them in the future.

Replying to someone else who asked why the cameras had been added in the first place, the airline said the device had been incorporated into its newer in-flight entertainment systems by the original equipment manufacturers, suggesting that it had not been requested by Singapore Airlines.

According to Singapore news site The Strait Times, the in-flight entertainment system in question is made by Panasonic and transport and technology firm Thales, and has been installed on the airline’s Airbus 350, A-380, Boeing 777-300ER, and B 787-10 planes, of which there are 84 in all.

Passengers expressed their concern on social media, with some apparently worried that the airline might be collecting visual data about passenger behavior during flights.

The Strait Times said that according to Thales’ website, the same in-flight entertainment system has been ordered or fitted onto around 1,600 planes operated by carriers such as American Airlines, Emirates, and Japan Airlines. It’s not clear at this stage whether these carriers have any intention of using the cameras for video chats at 38,000 feet, or for some other activity.

We’ve reached out to Thales and Panasonic to find out more about the embedded cameras and will update if we hear back.

In the meantime, if you really don’t like the idea of a camera pointing at you while you’re stuck in your aircraft seat, be sure to slip some tape into your pocket before you set off for the airport.

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