A Webcam News Sandwich for December 7, 2013

A new web-based application, aptly named Handy, which works on the Chrome browser, allows you to navigate within YouTube recipe videos by making hand gestures in front of your web cam. This means you actually have some hope of following along and cooking the recipe as you watch the video. I remember reading about this hand-gesture technology a while ago, and it’s great to see that it can now be put to a very practical use.

The site currently doesn’t work on iOS devices, unfortunately, but the people at Wired.co.uk tested it on a Mac laptop and it worked just fine. That means I’ll need to find another excuse not to try a new recipe.

Perhaps my excuse not to try new recipes is because I’m nauseated at the prospect of my webcam being used for nefarious purposes by an overreaching government?

According to a Washington Post article published yesterday, the FBI can now use malicious software to gather information about a suspect’s computer use–web sites visited, physical location of computer while browsing online and, ominously, the software can even be used to activate the webcam on the computer without the suspect’s knowledge.

It seems from the article that judges and magistrates have been reluctant to grant permission for webcam activation, which is as it should be. A valid warrant, according to the Fourth Amendment is supposed to “particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” and it seems impossible to know this with respect to a portable webcam. In addition, since most of us are not in the position of granting random 24-7 webcam access to third parties, there would be no way to argue that, per the third-party doctrine, we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in what our webcams witness. (See this News Sandwich for more on that issue.) We can only hope that the FBI and other government agencies are not abusing this technology, and that judges continue to be reluctant to grant permission to deploy it. Yeah, right.

Is your heart racing after reading the above? Soon your webcam will be able to detect that, too. Over a year ago The Oxford Times reported that a company called Oxehealth created software that could “detect heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen saturation, using the camera in an ordinary laptop.” Apparently our skin reflects light differently according to differences in these variables. The accuracy is comparable to that of monitoring devices, like finger sensors, that must be in physical contact with the patient. With Oxehealth’s software, the webcam can be a yard or more away. Oxehealth recently appointed a new chairman according to this press release, and so is still on track for making their technology a commercial reality.

Maybe one day I’ll install it on my computer and learn how to control my heart rate, etc., while I read the day’s news?

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2 Comments

Filed under Politics, Technology

2 responses to “A Webcam News Sandwich for December 7, 2013

  1. I absolutely hate the possibility of someone accessing my webcam remotely. That seems like the ultimate invasion of privacy. Of course you can cover it up with something when you’re not using it (I use black gaffers tape), but they probably figured out a way of seeing through that too. … and it still leaves your microphone vulnerable. What is one to do?

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