Am I on Candid Camera?
December 24, 2013 12:13 PM   Subscribe

When I boot up my work laptop, the camera light comes on for an instant. Is it taking a picture? If so, where would it store those pics?

I'm mainly concerned about the routine operation of the computer. Outside hackers, NSA, not so much -- my employer's IT dept maintains good security. I know the hive can't answer these questions absolutely, but all thoughts are welcome.
posted by LonnieK to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What kind of computer?
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on December 24, 2013

Are you talking about a 'cold boot' from 'off' or just 'waking from sleep'? If the former, I would assume, like checking the memory, it's just checking to see what hardware is installed and, if so, probably not even taking a picture (ie. just running power to the camera and checking the chip for its device id). If the latter, I dunno, but probably the same thing.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:19 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is distinctly possible that your employer has installed laptop tracking software that can use the laptop's camera to identify who is using the laptop. A couple examples of this are Hidden and GadgetTrak. It's more common to use the webcam functionality to take a picture when the laptop has been stolen, but I imagine a competent IT department could configure the system to take pictures at boot to get a record of who has been using the laptop.

The real answer here is that you should not expect any privacy when using your work computer, regardless of what evidence you have or don't have of corporate or government surveillance. You should not attempt to circumvent your employer's security (which may not even be possible with your technical expertise), you should simply not use your laptop in any way that is improper.
posted by saeculorum at 12:48 PM on December 24, 2013

you should simply not use your laptop in any way that is improper

OP, you can decide whether or not "proper" means taking pictures without your knowledge, and whether or not a piece of post-it note over the camera is any sort of violation of protocol.
posted by sageleaf at 12:57 PM on December 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: It is not impossible it's a spy thing.

It is much much much much more likely this is simply the computer showing you the light is working, much like the Oil and all the other warning lights flash when you start the car. I would google the model of computer, or ask the manufacturer.

I can assure you that if it was the FBI or NSA you would never see the light come on.

You absolutely *DO* have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even on a work machine. If you boot up at home and happen to be naked, do you think they're entitled to take and store nude pictures of you because it's "a work machine?" Absolutely, 100% not, not in any jurisdiction I know of.

So, you're probably not being spied on. But if you never use the webcam, a small piece of black tape never goes amiss.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:37 PM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you tried booting off other media (CD or USB)? Does the camera light activate when doing so? Would indicate some sort of hardware initialization. If the light stays off, it is software (though it could still be driver initialization or otherwise innocuous).
posted by fings at 2:27 PM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, should have said:
• Lenovo Thinkpad.
• Cold boot.
• Improper use is not an issue.

As to privacy expectations, I know and acknowledge my employer's obvious right to know every detail of my use of his machine. Duh. What I don't grant anyone is a right to record me in my home, or anything else in my home. Nor does US law; drjimmy11 explains that clearly.

I think the routine hardware check is Occam's best explanation.

Thx all!
posted by LonnieK at 3:32 PM on December 24, 2013

Most laptop camera lights are actually hardwired to the camera- if the camera is on, so is the light, with no software way to turn it off. This is actually something that makes those creepy people who take over people's computer cameras with malware to take voyeuristic pictures very unhappy, because it tends to tip off people. Regardless, this particular flash is still probably part of the start-up self check mechanism.
posted by rockindata at 5:02 PM on December 24, 2013

rockindata, turns out that's not true anymore.
posted by suedehead at 5:22 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask on a Lenovo forum or this thinkpad forum - mention the model number and OS version.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:58 AM on December 25, 2013

It is possible your work is checking to make sure the authorized user is logging in to the laptop. They could use this info is there was a security breach or improper computer use to prove who was using the laptop (so someone couldn't use the "my wife/son/husband used the laptop to surf inappropriate content" excuse.)

If it were me, I'd put a sticky "reminder" note conveniently over the camera. :-)
posted by LittleMy at 11:05 AM on December 25, 2013

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