You?EUR(TM)re Being Watched.

Published Date
04 - May - 2007
| Last Updated
04 - May - 2007
You’re Being Watched.
Google search for "MMS Scandals" brings up over 3 lakh results, but what's worrying is the fact that the first few results scream "DPS MMS, Preity Zinta, Mallika Sherawat, Nude Riya Sen Pictures...", or something to that effect. We Indians seem to have turned voyeur, and the sheer number of video clips of unsuspecting women or couples caught on camera in the most compromising of situations is testimony to that.

Web sites proudly proclaim "Desi" content, with the most popular sites offering voyeur videos of everyday Indian women. Not all these videos or pictures contain nudity, but they certainly are all sexual in nature. Popular forums and blogs, visited by a lot of Net-savvy young Indian men and women, contain content that is filmed without the subjects' permission.

Take the example of a forum that has mainly Indian members who share pictures and video clips that they've shot / found of Indian men / women (you really thought we'd link you to it, didn't you?). Though the site has loads of pornography and MMSes, surprisingly, the most popular threads are those that are filled with "aunties" (forum slang for women between the ages of 25 and dead) in regular clothes, just going about everyday work, such as hanging up clothes, or sweeping their balconies! No nudity is required, just a little skin showing! Amateur photographers-turned-voyeurs click these pictures and post them online, where members come and make derogatory and sexual remarks about them. If you think this is limited to a few big cities, you should know that this writer has seen pictures posted by people from Nasik, Baroda, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Kolkatta, Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Imphal, Udaipur, Ranchi, Gwalior… a never-ending list!

Technology has invaded our lives, and though most of it is good, there are negative aspects to everything. Take the mobile phone, for instance: what was an elitist device a decade ago is now a tool for the masses. But what's causing the problems is the falling prices of camera phones. With higher-end phones now sporting in excess of 3-megapixel cameras, the older VGA models have become bare minimum for anyone buying a mobile today. It's not even a feature anymore; it's just there!

While a lot of us will use this technology to click pictures of our families, pets, or nature, others will try and misuse it for voyeuristic purposes. Arming everyone from teenagers to adults with an easily concealable camera will obviously have repercussions.

A chat with one of the people (anonymity requested) who posts such pictures on forums and sites explained a lot:

Q. Why do you post pictures online?
A. Honestly, I just like the attention and praise for it. I like to share my voyeuristic exploits with friends.

Q. Why pictures of women shopping, hanging clothes, standing at a bus stop? These are just regular women!
A. Have you watched TV recently? All the most popular shows are based in reality. We want to see real women, in everyday scenarios, and admire them. Pornography is so fake and so passé that most people now prefer to see regular women in revealing street clothes, rather than pornstars in action! 

Q. But without their permission? Most of the responses are hardly anything that women will find flattering…
A. I can't help how people express themselves. I see beauty in real women, and I take pictures of them to remember it. If someone else cannot control his vocabulary, that's his problem. At least I have the courtesy to blur out faces most of the time, to prevent these women from being recognised. Most others don't.

What's sad is that he's right! Most of the other people posting pictures didn't blur out the faces of the women they'd secretly  photographed. In three days of research, this writer saw over 2,000 pictures of women from around India, posted on forums or blogs that deal with voyeurism-and in addition, at least 500 video clips that could be classified as adult material, all of them involving real people being filmed without their knowledge. The settings were as varied as bathrooms / public toilets, hotel rooms, and even those shot at home, with or without the subject's consent.

Reality Means You
It's true. Whether you consider voyeurs sexual predators or just irritants, the reality is that they're just waiting for a chance to catch you in a compromised situation. By reading what voyeurs say online, it's obvious that there is no stereotype: it's easy to tell that some of them are just teenagers with overcharged hormones (generally using IM-speak in posts), while others seem to be very well-educated adults, fluent in language and technology. So what this means is that your friend, neighbour, boss, employee, beautician, servant, etc., could be voyeurs, and you'd never know.

With millions of women being exploited by voyeurs worldwide, how do you stop this happening to your friends or family members?
Should we stop going outside our houses? Make sure we dress (and do everything else as well) in the dark? We know we cannot. So how do we prevent being exploited like this?

The easiest way to prevent being embarrassed is by understanding how voyeurs work, and what they use to spy on you.

The Tools Of The Trade

Most of the tools used by voyeurs are video capture devices. From regular webcams to miniature spy cameras, it's all available online and at select stores in your city.

Our first stop had to be Here we found quite a few "spy" cameras on sale for less than Rs 800! Obviously not any great quality, but probably good enough to get a grainy picture-though any sort of picture is bad enough for a victim. For the voyeur with the desire to film in complete darkness, there are products such as the "Night vision wireless colour security camera (2.4 GHz)". Because it's wireless, this camera can be set up anywhere, while the voyeur sits nearby (up to 1,000 feet away) and enjoys the show. It's also easy to record the video and audio stream.

Ironically, most of the devices that are a potential threat to your privacy are sold as security devices! Take the pin-hole cameras that are widely available. Unlike other cameras, which are quite easy to spot, pin-hole cameras are very hard to detect, as they literally need just a pin hole to look through. You get wireless versions that can be hidden inside anything, like teddy bears, small boxes, behind / inside walls, false ceilings, etc. You also get pen cameras, which are hidden in plain sight. Then there are the alarm clock cameras and the smoke detector cameras, which are very obviously made for spying purposes.

None of them are overly expensive, either, ranging in price from Rs 1,000 to Rs 40,000. Obviously, the more expensive spy cameras offer better resolutions, with lower lighting requirements-and are more concealable. Audio is another addition to the more expensive models.

Of course, sometimes the actual technology isn't anything special, like when installing a camera behind a one-way mirror! You could even install a bulky movie camera or camcorder behind a one-way mirror-if there's space available. There are various ways to check for one-way mirrors-shutting off all the lights and pressing a flashlight to the mirror will let you see if it's one-way and if there's a space behind it. Another easy way to check is to try moving the mirror: if it moves, look behind it, if it's built into the wall, try and find out what's behind it by looking at the layout of the room and the surroundings.

Situations To Avoid

  • When holidaying with your family, make sure you stay at a trusted hotel. Smaller guesthouses and rooms on rent might compromise your privacy. This doesn't mean that all smaller establishments are unsafe, or that all large hotels are safe-it's just the law of averages!
  • Avoid shooting yourself or your family in compromising situations. Most of the voyeur content online is "leaked" content that was shot with the knowledge of the subjects! Want to make that honeymoon special? Try a candlelight dinner instead of making an A-rated home movie!
  • Don't store sensitive content (of yourselves, your family, or your friends) on your PC or mobile phone. Your PC might be used by your friends who could stumble across this content, and your mobile phone could be stolen.
  • Cyber cafés are another problem. If you're storing personal and/or explicit content in your e-mail account, accessing that account from a public place such as a cyber café is a bad idea. If someone has installed a keylogger on that machine, they can get access to your e-mail account, and as a result, all your personal data. Blocking your credit card is easy, but living with the embarrassment of being caught with your pants down is not. 
The PC
If you think the only way you can be caught with your pants around your ankles is by video or audio devices, think again. Most of the privacy breaches that happen around the world are through PCs. Whether it's gaining access to your bank account passwords, your credit card information, or just your e-mail, it all happens through the PC. The most common places where these breaches in your privacy occur are at cyber cafés and at work! Yes, you read that right-at work!

The people accessing your personal information are not always hackers-these could be your friends, you co-workers, your boss, even your system administrator. Most companies reserve the right to scan through your work e-mails, and it's not against the law. When you use company property, the company has the right to monitor how you use that property.

Keyloggers are the biggest threat to your privacy, at home or work. They could be installed by your friends or co-workers, and could give everyone access to your personal life. Most commercial keylogging software is undetectable by anti-virus scanners, and don't even show up in the Task Manager. The safest thing you can do is leave all your personal work for home, on the computer you own and trust. Also, if your home computer is used by friends, make sure you put passwords for all administrator level accounts, and only give your friends a guest account to use.

The Cell Phone
Most voyeur videos online are shot with mobile phones. Some are shot in secret, but the overwhelming majority are made with the victim's consent, based on trust. Sometimes the person shooting the video breaches that trust and shares the video with friends, who in turn share it with the world, or the videographer is himself fooled-and shares the videos unknowingly: transferred over Bluetooth, by exchanging memory cards, or just because of the phone being stolen. If you're smart, and would rather not become the object of every porn-surfing Netizen's fantasy, don't allow yourself to be filmed in compromising positions, no matter how much you trust the person behind the camera!

Stay Safe
If you educate yourself about the technologies available that aid in spying, it will be that much harder to fool you. You also need to inform your families and friends about such threats, and report every such incident to the authorities. If you have friends or family members who take pleasure in being voyeuristic, remind them that what they are doing is illegal and punishable by law.

It's also good to put people in the victim's shoes: the line "What if someone did this to your mother/sister/daughter?" seems to put things in the right perspective, and generally acts as a deterrent-not always, but often enough!

Meanwhile, just stay safe and play sensible!  

Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.