TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Many of us have marveled at live streaming video of eaglets in a nest, erupting volcanoes or people simply strolling through a public square on the other side of the world.
But when one Tampa grandmother went surfing for live zoo video with her 8-year-old granddaughter on a live-streaming phone app, she stumbled into something far creepier on the world wide web. Instead of Snooty the Manatee, she discovered a kind of human zoo for voyeurs.
“I saw living rooms, I saw a hotel room and then I saw the baby bed and that kinda freaked me out a little bit,” the woman said.
She asked that we not identify her by name because of possible retribution from the app creators. And that was before she knew this site has roots in Ukraine, one of the underworld’s hotbeds of hacking in Eastern Europe.
In case of this phone app, the object of that hacking appears to be home security video systems from here to Finland and beyond.
“These people don’t know they’re being watched,” the grandmother remarked. “I’m sure when they got the security cameras or the baby monitors they didn’t realize that other people were just going to be able to watch them without anybody knowing it.”
It turns out the practice of accessing home security and baby monitoring systems is relatively easy if consumers don’t take basic measures to safeguard their privacy. Security experts say people with remotely accessible video monitoring systems in their homes should register their equipment to make sure the manufactures can push out firmware to update them against hacks and other tampering from outside.
And most importantly consumers should change the password on their equipment from the default code.
According to the website welivesecurity.com one hacker accessed the video system inside the bedroom of a toddler and started insulting the child by name after seeing the toddler’s name on the wall.
We’re not naming the “spycam” app that shocked the Tampa grandmother, and we’ve blurred faces on the video we recorded. A basic search of live streaming cameras turned up more than 900 applications that purport to show real video of real people and scenes worldwide. The one we looked into also features a few cameras that do not seem intended for public consumption.
We viewed scenes of people cooking meals in their kitchen, eating dinner on trays in front of their TV, kids playing in their rooms, even a sleeping watchdog who seemed quite unaware anyone was watching him. One scene showed what appeared to be an elderly disabled woman with a walker nearby.
And then there’s the bed in the bedroom. Actually, quite a few beds in quite a few bedrooms.
One camera shows a close up of a bed that could be in a hotel room somewhere. There’s even a feature that lets viewers go back in time hours and hours for snapshots of previous activity. And how’s this sound Facebook fanatics—a “like” button so viewers can signal their approval for whatever their unwitting objects of voyeurism are doing.
“one of these things had hundreds of views hundreds of likes. Who are these people ‘liking’ these people who are eating their dinner or watching TV who don’t even know they’re being watched,” the grandmother said. “It was very concerning.”
The grandmother tells Eight on Your Side she’s not inclined to run out and buy a security system to make herself feel safe and secure after what she witnessed while trying to take her granddaughter on a virtual trip to the zoo.. But if she did buy one she’d absolutely put in a passcode to keep busy bodies from making virtual visits to her home.” I don’t want anybody watching me,” the woman said.