From All Angles: Industry Stakeholders Weigh In on Seatback IFE Camera

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Image: Yann Bastard

The appearance of cameras in certain seatback IFE systems has passengers asking, “Are we under surveillance?”

Cathay Pacific uses CCTV cameras in its lounges and airplane cabins to record passenger activity, in addition to logging data regarding the usage of in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems. All of this was revealed in an updated privacy policy, released this July, that received serious media attention, prompting the airline to clarify that its IFE systems “do not have any cameras, microphones or sensors to monitor passengers, nor have they in the past.”

Carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates, however, do have cameras in their latest IFE systems, which are manufactured by Panasonic Avionics. “These cameras have been intended by the manufacturers for future development,” says a Singapore Airlines spokesperson. “They are permanently disabled on our aircraft and cannot be activated on board. We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras.”

David Bartlett, chief technology officer, Panasonic Avionics, says, “Our IFE monitors were developed with an eye on potential applications for customers.” Such applications could include seat-to-seat videoconferencing, communication with flight attendants, extended-reality (XR) features or something as simple as a digital mirror. The hardware, Bartlett says, is meant to future-proof Panasonic’s offerings and anticipate applications for its customers.

“At the end of the day, privacy is always top of mind for us. Even when the IFE system is on, the cameras are not operable unless the airlines activate the function,” says Bartlett. No Panasonic customer has done so.

“We have no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras.” – Singapore Airlines

“From an APEX perspective, in-flight entertainment system cameras require explicit consent from the passenger,” says APEX/IFSA CEO Dr. Joe Leader. “APEX has provided all of its airline members worldwide guidance for onboard camera usage and will continue to do so in close coordination with IATA. Since our interests center on advancing airline passenger experience, APEX envisions future opportunities to use these technologies to better serve customers with their explicit permission on an individual basis, and for their security in public areas.”

Bartlett agrees on the need for further information on the issue: “I think we should work as an industry to agree on protocol or guidelines, such as passenger opt-in with clear explanation as to how seatback camera footage will be used, no storage of any personally identifying images, no use of any camera data for any other purpose without permission, and strict adherence to the most stringent passenger privacy-protection laws.”

“From All Angles” was originally published in the 9.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

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