Qualcomm announced the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor for flagship Android phones, and we were all excited about it. However, there’s a detail tucked in the announcement that has us concerned—the processor will let a phone’s camera be on at all times.
The company’s vice president of product management Judd Heape describes the new technology, saying, “Your phone’s front camera is always securely looking for your face, even if you don’t touch it or raise to wake it.”
That sounds cool, as you’ll be able to unlock your phone with your face more quickly. It also sounds terrifying since your smartphone’s front-facing camera will always be watching you, whether you want it to or not. Imagine having your phone propped on its charging stand, just recording you at all times on the off chance that you might look at it so it can be ready to unlock.
Qualcomm is comparing the feature to microphones always listening for “Hey, Google” and other commands. These are not the most private devices to have around, but they’re listening for specific wake words, not constantly scanning the room looking for your face. It feels different and far more invasive.
Other devices do this. Google Nest Hub Max has a camera that scans your face when you approach it to provide information that’s tailored to you. Your home security cameras are already on all the time, constantly recording everything happening in your house.
There will be a way to turn this off on the OS level if you’d prefer your phone not stare at you at all times. According to The Verge, Qualcomm Technologies vice president of product management Ziad Asghar said, “The consumer has the choice to be able to pick and choose as to what is enabled and what’s not enabled.” It’s also possible that phone makers won’t even enable it on their phones out-of-the-box, but we’ll have to wait and see.
That’s reassuring, as this does sound like a privacy nightmare. No one wants to put tape over their smartphone camera, but if this feature becomes the norm, it might just be the next logical step for the privacy-conscious.