Is it really a good idea to put tape over your webcam?
When you walk into an office or cafe, you’ll often see people using a range of items to conceal their webcam. Sometimes it’s tape, post-it notes, folded business cards, stickers, their thumbs or a marlin. I spread peanut butter on my webcam, but peanut butter in pieces. It’s safer than smooth.
None of these items came with the laptop when purchased, and it’s easy to scoff at putting anything paranoid on them. The idea of someone wanting to peek through your particular webcam feels a bit narcissistic and nervous, like we’re leaving our house and saying to one in particular, “Please, no cameras.”
But if it’s absurd that people put duct tape over their webcams, it’s doubly absurd that it’s actually a good idea.
Webcam hacking is a real thing
Almost anything can be hacked, and that’s not just the title of my next pop-up children’s book. Over the years, there have been a slew of stories of webcams being hijacked by those seeking to spy on unsuspecting people, often people they know. In 2009, a student discovered his school-provided laptop secretly photographed him (without giving further credit!), and many of women have had their webcams hackedthe situation often degenerating into blackmail.
At the federal level (it can’t be good), secret documents showed the NSA gets backdoor access to web cameras and the UK monitoring agency GCHQ does the sameall spying being done without the courtesy of the webcam light activation. It’s so rude.
Even without the countless horror stories, the idea of a webcam on your laptop is a bit weird to begin with. There’s basically a camera pointed at your face at all times. Not your shin, not your elbow, not your toes, your face. And we bought it. We all walked into a store and basically said, “A camera was still pointing at my face, please.”
Certainly, I am well aware that no one is interested in watching me. It was obvious in high school. This so-called threat is much worse for women and people with children, and I am neither the last time I checked. It’s still pretty rare for a webcam to get hacked, and I still feel a bit silly when I drape something over my webcam like it’s a bedtime parrot.
Maybe it’s more the principle. For years I owned a laptop that didn’t have a webcam and I liked to pretend during work meetings that my connection was bad, and I often go to a real human cashier at a grocery store instead to use one of those automatic checkouts that creepily displays your picture to you. The look on my face when I buy Bagel Bites at one o’clock in the morning is information I didn’t need.
what you can do
Although we all know there are cameras everywhere, it seems somewhat natural to do what we can to stop a few of them from watching us. Even Mark Zuckerberg—the guy who has more information about people than the Library of Congress—tapes her webcam.
Luckily, in addition to items like gum and blankets, you can buy little webcam blocking clips which give you the ability to know if you are in the mood to spy. More laptops should just be integrated. Your webcam may also be disabled, and it’s often best to have antivirus backup. And if you can, try to be really boring in front.
Feel free to feel silly when you block your webcam, but be silly and careful. If your webcam is covered in osmium plate wrapped in blackout curtains and sealed with one of these zip ties, I won’t judge.
Don’t be surprised if one day hackers find a way to get rid of it too.