On #WTFWednesday, the privacy threats we tell you about always get a “WTF?” from us because we can’t believe they’re happening. This week, we’re telling you about something we can’t even believe is possible.
You read the title exactly right. Spies can now eavesdrop on your conversations just by watching your bag of potato chips. Or the surface of the glass of water on your table. Or even the houseplant by your window. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
These aren’t specially wired spy-chip bags and spy-drinks and spy-plants we’re talking about, either. They’re just ordinary objects. How the hell does that work?
Well, the objects mentioned do all have one thing in common: they can all vibrate. There’s your clue.
If you know how sound works, you’ll know it’s essentially vibrations in the air. When you speak, your vocal cords create vibrations across a range of frequencies.
But sound can also travel through solid objects using the same method: vibration. And it’s happening all around you, all the time.
Whenever you speak, the objects around you vibrate on a minute, invisible scale. That includes your bag of chips, your drink, and your plant. They’re all trembling slightly with the tiny vibrations of your voice. You’ve just probably never seen it or thought about it before.
Unfortunately for your privacy, someone else did think about it. Enter the scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Any Object Can Be A Visual Microphone
MIT has found a way to record conversations by filming tiny vibrations in objects like a bag of chips.
The method usually uses a high-speed camera, which records video at 2,000 to 6,000 frames per second. That’s much faster than a typical movie (usually 24fps) or smartphone camera (up to 60fps). But in other experiments, researchers were still able to gather sound information using a 60fps camera.
An algorithm then converts the vibrations into digital sound waves. And the results are scary.
“People didn’t realize that this information was there,” says MIT graduate Abe Davis. “Using only a video of the object and a suitable processing algorithm, we can extract these minute vibrations and partially recover the sounds that produce them, letting us turn everyday visible objects into visual microphone.”
Yep. Everything around you is now a visual microphone, silently leaking your secrets to anyone with the right equipment,
Listening Through Soundproof Glass
Skeptical? Watch MIT’s video below. At around the 1:40 mark, it shows a camera recording the vibrations of a bag of chips while a voice reads “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Freakier still, the camera is recording from behind soundproof glass and 15 feet away. Yet MIT’s visual microphone technology still picks up the sound very clearly.
The Chips That Knew Too Much
MIT’s invasive new technology has some really dangerous implications for our future privacy.
Right now, the visual microphone algorithm is in MIT’s hands – but what about when it becomes public, and available in a smartphone app?
Researchers have already shown the technology works pretty well with a regular camera. Once it goes mainstream, we can all kiss out private conversations goodbye.
Then, when your secrets leak out, you won’t go looking for a mole in your office. You’ll be checking for loose bags of Doritos instead.
Thanks for reading #WTFWednesday, our weekly look at how your privacy is going down the drain. Know someone you’d like to warn about ordinary objects listening to you? Share this story with them!
ExpressVPN’s #WTFWednesday brings you weird, shocking, and creepy stories about data privacy—pulled straight from the news. Think your privacy is yours? Think again. You will feel uncomfortable. You will be outraged. You will think, “WTF?!”
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