In a statement, an American Airlines spokesperson said the cameras were included in the inflight entertainment systems to allow for “possible future uses, such as hand gestures to control inflight entertainment.” As that technology hasn’t been implemented, both American Airlines and Singapore Airlines chose to disable the cameras.
Seatback cameras, active or not, still pose a privacy risk to airline passengers, though. Cameras attached to connected devices have the potential to be hacked. Before you start totally freaking out, your internet-connected laptop (yeah, the one you’re probably reading this on right now) is way more likely to be hacked than an airplane system. Still, what we’re saying is there’s a chance.
Neither airline has said whether they intend to start covering the cameras to ease passengers’ minds. If you’re worried about being watched while you ugly cry to a drama flick on your next flight, maybe travel with sticky notes or tape. That won’t seem suspicious at all to the TSA.