Qualcomm’s new always-on smartphone camera is a privacy nightmare

by AryanArtnews
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“Smartphone front cameras are always looking for a face safely, without having to wake up by touching or lifting.” This is what Qualcomm Technologies’ vice president of product management, Judd Heape, said early next year. It’s a way to introduce the company’s new always-on-camera feature to the Snapdragon 8 Gen1 processor set on Android phones.

Depending on who you are, the statement can be exciting or frightening. For Qualcomm, this new feature enables new use cases, such as waking and unlocking your smartphone without having to pick it up or lock it immediately when you can’t see your face. I think it will be.

But for those of us who understand how modern technology is being used to invade privacy, cell phone cameras are constantly recording images. Even if you don’t use it It sounds like a nightmare, costs privacy, and far outweighs the potential benefits of convenience.

Qualcomm’s main marketing feature for this feature is to unlock your smartphone at first glance, whether you’re sitting at a table or leaning against a stand. You don’t have to pick it up, tap the screen, or say a voice command. When you look at your face, it just unlocks. This can be useful if your hands are cluttered or otherwise occupied (in the presentation, Qualcomm used the example used to cook the recipe to confirm the following steps: ). With your smartphone attached to your car, you can see your driving route at a glance without having to take your hand off the steering wheel or leave the screen all the way.

The company is also spinning it to make your phone Safer Automatically locks your phone when you lose your face or when you detect someone snooping on a group chat over your shoulder. You can also prevent personal information and notifications from popping up when you’re looking at a phone call with someone else. Basically, if you haven’t seen it, your phone is locked. If it can see you, it will be unlocked.If it can see you When Someone else can lock your phone automatically or prevent your personal information and notifications from appearing on your screen.

While these features may sound neat and useful, I don’t think it’s worth the trade-off for privacy issues with a always-on camera.

For the always-on camera feature, we’ll show you the Snapdragon Gen1 system-on-chip in the third hour of Qualcomm’s four-hour presentation.

Qualcomm is framing a always-on camera, similar to the always-on microphone that has been on mobile phones for many years. These are used to listen to voice commands such as “Hey Siri” and “Hey Google” (or lol, “Hi Bixby”) and then wake up and answer the call. You don’t have to touch or lift the phone at all. But the main difference is that they are listening to a particular wake word, which often limits what they can do until they actually pick up the phone and unlock it.

With a camera that constantly scans your portrait, it feels a little different.

It is true that smart home products already have such features. Google’s Nest Hub Max uses the camera to recognize your face when you approach it and greet you with personal information such as a calendar. Home security cameras and video doorbells are always on, looking for activities or specific faces. However, these devices are at home, not everywhere, and usually do not store the most personal information like mobile phones do. There are also frequent features such as a physical shutter that blocks the camera and an intelligent mode that disables recording when you’re at home and resumes only when you’re not at home. It’s hard to imagine a phone maker putting a physical shutter on the front of a slim and sophisticated flagship smartphone.

Finally, security breaches and social engineering hacks have been reported, enabled when the smart home camera is not turned on and send the feed to the remote server. Everything is done without the knowledge of the homeowner. The latest smartphone operating systems now properly notify you that your app is accessing your camera or microphone while your device is in use, but how do you always notify that a malicious app is invading? It’s not clear if it can be done. -With the camera.

“Always on camera data never leaves a secure sensing hub while looking for a face,” Heape said, meaning that the data isn’t sent to the cloud and the app on the phone isn’t accessible. To do.

Ziad Asghar, another vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, told his colleague Chaim Gartenberg that users can disable the always-on camera feature and choose which features they want to use and which they don’t. “Consumers have the option of being able to choose what is valid and what is invalid,” he said.

The OnePlus 7 Pro hides the entire camera system in an electric pop-up module. Perhaps it’s time to get this idea back.
Photo courtesy of Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Smartphone manufacturers using Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 may not enable this feature at the hardware level. Qualcomm doesn’t really integrate smartphones into chips (except for one-off novelties that aren’t widely purchased), so companies like Samsung, OnePlus, and Xiaomi have enabled features that are enabled on smartphones. You can customize no features. Some of these companies are adopting their own solutions, bypassing Qualcomm’s image processing components. It’s not hard to see that we’ve skipped criticisms of privacy concerns and abandoned this feature as well.

But even if you won’t find it on every phone next year, this feature just means that someone will use it at some point. It sets an uneasy and unpleasant precedent. Qualcomm may be the first product to have this feature, but it won’t be long before other companies add to the competition to catch up with it.

You may need to tape your smartphone’s camera, as you’ve already done with your laptop webcam.

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