back to article A webcam is not so much a leering eye as the barrel of a gun

“Strip it off!” commands a disembodied voice. “We want to see what you’ve got!” Strangers are watching me all across the Internet, waiting for the big reveal. At least, they would be if they could see anything. I have joined a Skype conference that is to be live-streamed to the general public and, subsequently, edited into a …

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  1. Dr Scrum Master

    Enterprising

    There's a whole industry of web-cam covers that's sprung up. So no need for your masking tape and sticky residue...

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Enterprising

      This one works and doesn't look like crap. Rather expensive though. However if you've got a hand as steady as a band stand conductor's you will probably leave bits of residue while trying to stick it on as you move it just a bit for the umpteenth time.

      1. 's water music Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Enterprising

        This one works and doesn't look like crap. Rather expensive though. However if you've got a hand as steady as a band stand conductor's you will probably leave bits of residue while trying to stick it on as you move it just a bit for the umpteenth time.

        'Customers also bought... (page 4): Kleenex Mansize Tissues, Compact Pack - 24 Box Pack (1200 Tissues Total)' so I would view that removable without any residue assertion with suspicion, or something.

        reverse grip?---->

    2. Potemkine Silver badge

      Re: Enterprising

      There's a whole industry of web-cam covers that's sprung up

      I use a post-it note: re-adherable and no sticky residue. Big enough to mask the mic too.

  2. MrT

    Black Mirror...

    Shut Up and Dance...

    I've only used black gaffer tape on the kids' laptop, until they grew out of the stage where Cbeebies games with their face on the Tellytubby sun were fun - there are loads of games like that. The Logitech golfball I use on this one has a flip-down cover, and is so old the drivers kick up a fuss, so sits unplugged on the shelf behind me.

    Times move on, though - selfie cameras on phones will be much more common these days, and many digital assistants are always listening...

  3. Tom 38 Silver badge
    Gimp

    I have the solution for this

    Every time I work from home, I'm either stark bollock naked or (if it is a little chilly) in my tighty whities. This has mostly led to significantly less requests for me to put the camera on when we do VC, apart from one Working Group who seem to only schedule meetings for me when I am working from home...

    1. Bucky 2

      Re: I have the solution for this

      That's why I secretly hope someone is watching me through my laptop's webcam. I like to imagine the horror and inevitable vomiting.

  4. Aaiieeee

    I think this is a reflection of the state of IT security. Somebody *could* have comprmised my laptop or software and I simply wouldn't know. I have to trust in.. well what, there isn't anything to trust in - the only guaranteed option is to obscure the lense. And whilst I am not to bothered by them watching me type an email or browse all kings of things, I don't want them seeing me. Why? Because I can't deny looking like me when a video gets posted to my family after I didn't pay the demanded ransom. But a capture of whats on my screen can be easily forged and is easy to deny etc, same as audio. Easy to say "thats not me".

    What about when you are on a conference call and you unknowingly clicked the 'send video' button and then proceed to pick your nose or roll your eyes and what is being said.

    Does this mean I am always acting in a way that I wouldnt want to share when at a laptop? No, but I want to have the choice to...

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Happy

      at about when you are on a conference call and you unknowingly clicked the 'send video' button and then proceed to pick your nose or roll your eyes and what is being said."

      A friend of mine was in a Video conference where someone accidentally shared their Desktop. They happened to be playing Freecell at the time. After about a minute of this, one of the Managers suggested the next move he should make. Cue paniced closing of Freecell, and unsharing of his Desktop and return of control to the guy actually giving the presentation. And naturally the entire conference laughing their arses off for the rest of the Meeting...

  5. Roger Kynaston
    Mushroom

    video

    I have only just had to start doing skype conference calls. The nice shiny laptop I got myself recently has a headphone jack but not one for an external mike so the funky earphones and boom mike don't bloody work. Thank you the manufacturer of former three letter laptop!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: video

      Still using a 3.5mm jack microphone, how quaint! You need a new USB microphone (and if the marketing bods have anything to do with it, "USB 3.0 for maximum fidelity and RGB mood lights, darling!")

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: video

        Only if it has a 'USB' charger as well.

    2. John Miles

      Re: has a headphone jack but not one for an external mike

      Is it a headphone jack or a combined Headphone and Mic jack, which is what is provided on this HP - if so something like This may work

    3. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: video

      It's a combination socket, that takes both headphone and microphone.

      You need an adaptor from TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) to two sockets, one for microphone, one for headphones.

      Or a pea-on-a-string phone headset might work.

      Typed on another formerly three-letter laptop.

      edit - Ninja'd!

      1. Nifty

        Re: video

        My Lenovo W520 would work with mic 3.5mm socket using standard Apple EarPods. Haven't tried my current Lenovo with them though.

    4. JetSetJim Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: video

      Get a USB headset then, there are plenty around. Or if you're desperate to keep the current headset, but a USB adapter with mic/headphone jacks built in - there are also plenty around for less than a fiver.

      edit - also Ninja'd!

    5. Montreux

      Re: video

      Lots of new laptops have the combined headphone and mic socket like on a phone. You can get an adapter if your headset has the old separate headphone and mic plugs.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: video

      How is your poor choice in laptops the manufacturer's fault?

    7. Kiwi
      Boffin

      Re: video

      I have only just had to start doing skype conference calls. The nice shiny laptop I got myself recently has a headphone jack but not one for an external mike so the funky earphones and boom mike don't bloody work. Thank you the manufacturer of former three letter laptop!

      I'm guessing that would be a Lenovo which only uses a propriety "$wipe the debt of several small nations" mic (uses the same jack as headphones, with a "$mcmansion" special adaptor cable)

      Got round that for a friend of mine, with a "so cheap I'll buy a couple just in case" USB sound card. Sound quality is more than good enough for what you wish :)

      HTH

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    My solution to the laptop camera

    is the humble clothes peg. You know the ones you use to hang up your clothes on the washing line (when it ain't pissing down that is).

    Easy to apply and remove. And you always know when it is there blocking the voyeurs. When not in use it slips into your laptop bag and takes up little space.

    And it is reusable.

    1. earl grey Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: My solution to the laptop camera

      "is the humble clothes peg"

      Wait a minute...you're pegging your computer... mind bleach please

  7. magickmark

    I must still be old fashioned! I still use and external webcam on my desktop PC and just tend to keep my lint free spectacle cleaning cloth hung over it when not in use or if I'm feeling in a particular tin foil hat mode I'll just unplug it.

    And yes I know that would not work for a laptop with a built in cam, but I'd just use a bit of tape!!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "if I'm feeling in a particular tin foil hat mode I'll just unplug it."

      Why not make a little tinfoil hat for it?

    2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
      Boffin

      Meh

      Just disable it in the bios. Then Skype wont even report that you are capable of transmitting video (at least it used to).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    If someone wants to stare at my beer-belly, I'm quite happy to let them. In fact, I'm proud of my beer-belly. It's taken many hours of dedicated beer swilling down the local to achieve...

  9. Noonoot

    Alistair Dabbs is obviously a Depeche fan: Stripped, Barrel of a gun

    1. Franco Silver badge

      They're obviously his Personal Jesus.

      (I'll get my leather jacket...)

      1. LesB

        No need to start any Blasphemous Rumours.

        And I'm sure the conference Enjoyed the Silence when the feedback stopped.

  10. Baldy50

    Ummm?

    'Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart'. Never heard of that one before, not my type anyway, no offense your ruggedly handsome IMO.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Ummm?

      Every friday when I read the "technology tart" bit in little grey box at the bottom of Dabbsy's latest offering, James Brown starts singing "Sex Machine" in my head. Get up!

  11. MK_E

    All of this just leaves me wondering how bloody hard it is for manufacturers to include a little hardware switch to disable the damn thing entirely when it's not in use. God knows they love putting the wifi on/off switch on laptops in places you can hit it by accident.

    1. veti Silver badge

      If your camera had a separate "hardware" power switch, would you trust it?

      I wouldn't.

      1. quxinot

        Why not a simple slider that not only covers the lens, but also keeps dust and debris off of it when not in use also?

        1. dbtx Bronze badge

          This. It's what some ASUS lappies come with-- shaped and labelled like a power switch but it's really just a shutter that slides between the outer plastic window in the bezel, and the CCD (or whatever). It didn't activate or deactivate anything AFAICT as there was no tactile response from any microswitch, not even a detent in either position. The U43J* w/bamboo and I think maybe the K53E had it but mine has no such mechanism, just a bit of black leccy tape.

          re: the above ranting about mic jacks: I have a pair of T21 with mic *and* line-in next to the headphone jack in the hard drive cover, so this being a new normal is just really rather sad. In my modernish laptop, my *headphone* jack only kicks on after a reboot if I hibernate and resume once. I love to download a 100MB driver package just to find out its muffler bearings are crooked so they muffle everything and none of the optional-update similarly large Realtek packages from MS that pop up from time to time have helped. Only In Windows(TM). My main OS doesn't believe in such nonsense and it always worked.

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Would you trust a hardware switch?

        Why not?

        Just load an os with no specific drivers and see if the USB device disappears when when you flick the switch.

        The vendor could fake it but there would be big trouble if they circumvented their security device.

  12. Potemkine Silver badge

    After all that noise...

    Enjoy The Silence

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: After all that noise...

      I enjoy a good feedback loop ... Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag

  13. AdamG57

    Red dot

    Never understood why computers, unlike video cameras, don't have a red dot indicator showing that the camera/microphone is on.... I suppose it could be done in software tho. Anyone seen that, or willing to suggest how it could be programmed?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Red dot

      My iMac has a green light next to the lens whenever the camera is on. No idea if it's hardware controlled or software controlled though.

      1. dbtx Bronze badge

        Re: Red dot

        I've seen blue lights, even on ~10-yr-old HPs, but if the light is controlled by the driver instead of the camera's USB interface, I wouldn't trust it. I had a guy at Worst Buy try to tell us it was triggered by sensing current being used in the module, and so a solid indicator of being watched. Probably hearsay.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Red dot

      Many do. Unfortunately they tend to be software controlled and therefore software disableable

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    When my computer is idle I like to point the webcam at a detail from the Meddle album cover and run an mpg of a tinny mix of Hey Mickey on infinite loop. Anyone trying to catch a glimpse of the Steviebod will pay for the privilege.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An example why so much prep is needed

    At least that wasn't before the conference went live.

    Most video or tele-conferences seems to have a Dabbs presenter who cares so little about others that they couldn't be bothered to prepare and tries to connect just minutes before the conference goes live. It gets even worst when not caring to prepare includes a disdain for the technology being used and lies about what they are doing.

    This also happens in meetings when people want to bring and use their own laptop or phone at meetings.

    Meanwhile it is because of the many Dabbs out there that everybody has to connect long before the conference goes live, which is a huge waste of time for the majority that actually prepare.

    My response when it comes to running meetings is Draconian rules and lots of prep. Last conference we got the room for two days and one night, set everything up, redundant hardware, timed everything, had a plan to handle any failure or incident including fire and black out. Others hate it, but I've had major incidents occur unnoticed and my meetings ended on time with all targets met.

    Of course it means I and other team members cannot be the hero's created when lack of a plan creates chaos but that was fine with me. Though I have watched others create the chaos, let it cause huge delays and costs, and then fix the chaos they created and get promotions. So there is something to be said for letting a meeting fall apart due to lots of Dabbs and saving it at the last moment.

    1. Esme

      Re: An example why so much prep is needed

      -or maybe if it's that easy to get things wrong, then the technology involved isn't properly up to the mark yet?

      I've seen video conferencing go from something dismissed as being from the realms of SF (ie: in your dreams sunshine') by management through 'Ooh, we must embrace the shiny!' irrespective of how well it works, to the current almost-but-not-quite sorted situation where it's certainly possible to do decent video conferencing, but it's also way too easy to screw it up, too (asid from leaving lens caps on. That's just unavoidable human frailty).

      Bit like all things IT really. In my twenties, I had a pocket computer that ran for months on three button batteries which gave you a whole 1.4K of RAM to program in BASIC. I dreamt of one day having a machine of about the power of a Raspberry Pi in a format the size of a paperback book, with many megabytes of storage, and maybe it'd have a radio phone attachment too. Wild dreams, eh? Most closely approached in the venerable (but still wonderful IMO) Psion Organiser.

      Now we have 'phones' that exceed my wildest dreams in potential capability but that need continual recharging because of all the crap foisted upon us by phone manufacturers and operators, who also both seem to think that the thing you purchased is theirs to control, not yours. Meh. I'm still waiting for my dream pocket computer (and yes, I've heard of the Pocket CHIP, ta, and it'd need an LED or leccy paper display and a considerably longer battery life to meet my required specs)!

      As for the net itself - I remember using Fidonet and trying to imagine what it could be like if computer networking really took off in a big way. Not sure what I imagined back then, it;s been drowned out by all this (waves hand around), the best bits of which are El Reg, iPlayer, roller derby videos and cute cat videos IMNSHO. As for all the rest of it - meh. :-}

  16. wyatt

    I've never had to remove the label over my webcam, I don't know if it will come off any more..

    Most controlled conference calls I've been on have been with the Home Office. No prisoners taken by the host, what she said went with no waffle, that was all saved for p2p conversations afterwards.

  17. 100113.1537

    Why have a webcam?

    I remove the "webcam" option when I buy new notebooks. Sometimes I even have to pay more(!), but I haven't missed it.

    I web-conference a lot, but what people need to see are the documents we are working on or the slides we are talking about. My ugly mug is hardly critical to the conversation....

  18. cd

    Blu-Tack

    A Little Dab'll Do Ya!

  19. Herby Silver badge

    Switch??

    A nice physical switch should be right next to all web cams as a matter of course. Of course some vendor will just make the switch a digital input that tells the computer to disable the camera, but at least it would be a switch.

    Ideally it would make the light next to the camera go green. When the camera is "activated" the tally light would go red, of course. Maybe a manufacturer is listening, but I have doubts.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Switch??

      A little slider that obscures the lens would easier and cheaper to implement, also a switch is ambiguous, if it affects the driver rather than the hardware it might possible to circumvent it so you'd be back to sticky tape.

      1. moiety

        Re: Switch??

        Agreed. I've long thought that a sliding cover (that also works as a switch for posh laptops) should be mandatory on laptops and phones. No ambiguity, plus the lens is protected, so it works better when you do want one.

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