Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to Lose at Russian Roulette

Peeping Tom image from Cult Gigolo on
I've made a few posts about ChatRoulette, but that's not the topic of this post. The only relationship is that when you go to ChatRoulette, the site automatically turns on your web camera. That is the topic of this post. If you have a web camera, you need to know that it is not entirely under your control. Malware or other software installed on your computer can be accessed remotely and can turn it on.

The most recent example of this took place in the Lower Marion School District in PA. In the past few days there have been more than 2000 articles posted about this. A quick Google search for web camera spying will round up most of them for you.

In case you haven't read anything about out, the administration had the ability to turn on web cameras on laptops issued in the schools 1-to-1 program. Apparently, an assistant principal disciplined a student for improper use of the computer at home and used a picture taken with the web camera as evidence. The result is a class action suit and an F.B.I. investigation.

I can't begin to fathom what was going through the asst. principal's mind when he started to activate cameras in order to police inside students' homes. The idea that anyone would do this is almost beyond comprehension. It's like playing Russian roulette with a revolver carefully loaded with 6 live rounds. You can spin the chamber as many times as you like, but the first time you pull the trigger, you will shoot yourself in the head.

Who knows how many cameras were activated or a how what he saw before he found someone doing something wrong, but the first time he acted on what he saw, the shot was heard around the world.

Aside from quickly ending his career, this incident will have significant impact on programs in both education and business. Software similar to that used in Lower Marion is used routinely by business. In all cases, the use is supposed to be for security, but the potential for abuse is something that is built into every computer that carries that kind of software.

It's going to be interesting to watch how far the ripples of this incident travel.

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