Posted by: Rob | August 8, 2008

The Ick Factor goes off the charts

A few years ago – can’t remember how many, exactly – my Mom was in the market for a new computer.  Since prices are about as low as it gets in the Edmonton area, there’s no provincial sales tax in Alberta, and she wanted to get the benefit of my knowledge, she came here from Regina, SK to purchase said desktop.

While it was still under warranty the computer’s motherboard failed and so I had occasion to return to the little computer shop where we had made the purchase.  That’s when I had my first insight into the world of the PC repair man (or woman).

During one of my visits to the shop while the staff dutifully attempted to first troubleshoot and then repair Mom’s PC, I was waiting and observing the goings-on at the repair desk.  People were steadily coming and going with their precious PC’s in either a state of non-responsiveness or fixed up and ready to get back to work (or e-mail or surfing or…whatever).

One particular customer caught my eye.  He was, as I recall, a tough looking customer.  And by tough looking I mean kind of sleazy and low-life.  I didn’t overhear what the problem with his PC was, but I could certainly smell the stale tobacco smoke odor that billowed out when the repair tech opened up the case.

Seeing nothing major amiss, the tech hooked the PC up to a keyboard, mouse and monitor and fired it up.  The monitor faced the room and as the low-life’s computer sprang to life we were all favoured with a bird’s eye view of the image on his desktop.  Which was, of course, triple X porn.  I can’t remember what the image was exactly.  It may have been a nude woman in an unflattering pose.  Or it might have been full frontal male genitalia on display.  Those memory cells of mine were, apparently, seared into non-function.

But that’s when I realized that PC repair techs probably see all manner of interesting things cross their desk in the form of the PC’s of John (or Jane) Q. Public.

I guess seeing what’s on customer PC’s might lead to a bit of twistedness – or something – on the part of some repair techs.

For example, courtesy of Ars Technica (via GroundReport via Slashdot) comes this story of a male student with a reputation for cheap PC repair who turned to the dark side.

Seems young Craig Feigin, when presented with the opportunity to do a little repair on a presumably attractive young lady’s portable computer, couldn’t resist installing some additional software goodies of his own devising.  These software goodies would turn the portable’s webcam on whenever someone was in proximity, take photos and then upload these photos to another web server.  Since the young lady’s computer spent a lot of time in her bedroom, many of the photos good ol’ Craig obtained were of said young lady in various states of undress.

The boy was found out and has been arrested.  He faces some serious charges that could result in jail time.

What really struck me about this case, though, is the pervasiveness of digital technology in our lives.  Did you ever see the movie Sliver?  It was about a high rise apartment building and the building’s owner had wired the entire building for video and audio.  He could look in and listen in on the goings-on in any unit essentially whenever he wanted.

Coupled with the news stories you’ve probably seen about perverts putting micro cameras into women’s change rooms and wash rooms, I’m not a little bit paranoid about staying in hotels.  Really.  I generally go round the room after checking in, peering into the HVAC vents and the smoke detectors, just to make sure there aren’t little cameras hiding in there.  (I haven’t found any yet, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.)

Lastly, there’s a book (sci-fi/fantasy) titled “The Light of Other Days” that more or less addresses this.  Modern technology makes it possible to see anywhere at anytime what anyone else is doing.  It results in a total loss of privacy.  And it not only spans space, but time as well.

I think that, when all is said and done, our notion of “privacy” is one of the biggest illusions in our lives.


  1. I don’t think there ever was much privacy unless you lived as a mountain man, and then the beaver spied on you.

  2. i’ve looked into vents (particularly in hotel bathrooms). if my business travel rate continues at the same rate? likely to get a “bug” detector – picks up cameras/transmiters. i’ll sleep better…

    we HAVE the technology… and remember, aluminum foil, shiny side out…

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