Is This Thing On? an Introductory Look at Webcam Surveillance

Webcam ( by Chris Gladis (CC BY 2.0)

Testing one, two, three- is this thing on?

I can recall quite vividly when I bought my first webcam back in the late-00s. My family had not long bought a shiny new laptop (before this we only had a bulky PC, assembled from different models) and we were all very excited to bask in its glory. Being like most teenage girls, I spent a lot of my time after school on Window’s Live Messenger program, MSN. The only problem was that our pristine Dell laptop did not have an inbuilt camera. How was I supposed to video chat with my friends? Take photos? Shock horror, I know. After finally convincing my parents that it was ‘safe’ and I would use it for good, I had it at long last. What could possibly be dangerous about a webcam?

The issue of webcam hacking and surveillance has been brought back into public discussion over the past week, following triple j’s ‘Hack’ (28 July 2016). The segment, in brief, speaks about how one man Matt, had a secretly recorded video of him in a private moment released into the public domain after his webcam was hacked unknowingly. How does this happen and how does it go unnoticed? With the increase in smart technology, it is important that internet users of all ages become aware of these invasions of privacy. For it is through these examples such as Matt’s and Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf‘s that we can take precautionary action to prevent these traumatising incidents from occurring again.

(Tweets embedded from my Twitter account- the difference a couple of weeks of study can make when you become more aware of privacy related issues)

Sangani’s (2013) journal article Uninvited Guests, takes a close look at the issue of ‘ratting’- an area of surveillance concerned with the hijacking of another’s webcam. As Sangani describes in his opening paragraph, targets for these online attacks are primarily women and are referred to as ‘slaves’ amongst the hacking community (2013, p. 47). He further goes on to discuss that not all victims are targeted for the purpose of financial gain, rather, victims have been preyed on for the voyeuristic thrill that webcam hacking entails. Scopophilia in regards to webcam hacking is not uncommon and appears to happen more often than you would think. Perhaps as technology advances, voyeuristic incidents are only set to increase. It is certainly a thought to consider. Although, this is not to say that we can’t take action and protect ourselves from potential attacks.

The act of voyeurism is exemplified to a great extent in Hitchcock’s films.


In a study undertaken by Rouse (2012), an online survey of 250 participants found the following information in regards to where individuals use their laptop most.

Out of those surveyed, 62% of participants said they use their laptop in the living room and 44% use their laptops in the bedroom (2012, p. 2). These are both quite intimate locations.

Rouse goes on to make some recommendations on how users can stay safe and help prevent webcam hacking and I think they’re great points to include here.

  • Covering the lens of your laptop camera – it has been recently discovered that Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg even does this
  • Stay informed of the potential risks regarding webcam hacking
  • Stay alert and pay attention to the camera light and keep strong anti-virus software protection
  • Close your laptop when you’re not using it

(Rouse 2012, p. 2)

Webcam hacking and the issues surrounding surveillance in smart devices can be confronting. However, if we stay informed and take careful measures to ensure our safety, we are creating awareness and preventing future attacks.

I look forward to blogging with you again next week 🙂

Until then,

– C


Rouse, RA 2012, Is someone watching you through your webcam (can be found here in .pdf)

Sangani, K 2013, ‘UNINVITED GUESTS’, Engineering & Technology (17509637), vol. 8, no. 10, p. 46.