When I was in elementary school, my parents bought me a bulky computer with a webcam that looked like a giant white eyeball. It came with extra wires that had to be plugged into the hard drive, right beneath the slot for floppy disks. At night, I would throw a blanket over the eyeball with childish worries about being watched in my sleep.
When I reached high school, webcams came attached to the screens. To protect myself, I would peel off the sticky part of a bright pink Post-It note and cover the flashing dot. Even as a teenager, I was babyish enough to believe someone was watching me through my webcam and kept it covered at all times.
By the time I reached college, I forgot about my fears and left the webcam uncovered. That was my first mistake.
Nothing seemed weird at first but I guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention.
In the middle of the night, I would hear a cough or a sneeze or a hitch in breathing — but I was living inside a dorm at SBU. A suite. We had a kitchen, a little lounge area, and four bedrooms with four horny girls crammed inside. Anytime I heard a noise, I popped in my headphones in case I would hear bed squeaking next.
I never thought anything of the sounds. I never realized where they were coming from, what they really meant.
There were other times, while sitting in class with my laptop yawned open in front of me, when I would see a quick flash from the corner of my eye. A dot of green that would disappear as soon as it appeared. I assumed it was the light of my webcam flicking on, but I couldn’t be sure.
Just to be safe, I opened Finder, looked through my applications, and checked everything that required a camera. Photobooth. Facetime. Skype. None of them had been open but I still had a strange feeling that the light was, indeed, from my webcam and not a trick of light.
When I told my suite-mates about what had happened, one shrugged and told me to cover the webcam with tape. One gave a nonsensical speech about how obscuring the laptop could somehow ruin its value and damage the product. One wasn’t even paying any attention.
When I re-told the story to one of my engineer-majoring friends, hoping for a technical solution, she teased me about it. Maybe someone is spying on you. Maybe someone is jacking off to you. I mean, you always bring your laptop to class and you have the bladder of a mouse. When you leave the room, someone might lean over and tip-tap on your keyboard to hack it. They might be watching you RIGHT NOW.
Then she threw her clawed hands at me, jump scaring me. We both laughed and the conversation jumped in a different direction that involved tequila shots and strip poker.
I would have forgotten about it. I would have let it go. Except that night, when I woke up needing to pee, I noticed a green haze coming from my opened laptop. I had my contacts out, so the light looked blurry, but it was definitely there.
By the time I fumbled for my glasses, it had blinked off again.
When my hangover dissipated, I lugged my laptop to the Apple Store to see what the professionals had to say. The man-bunned employee assigned to help me claimed he didn’t find anything wrong with my computer, but he seemed distracted by the tall, curvy coworker he was training (who I had been equally distracted by myself). Besides, I had been using my one free store credit that came with the laptop so maybe solving my problem didn’t earn him any commission. Maybe he had no incentive to help me.
Not feeling any better after my trip to the store, I ripped a piece of paper from my notebook, folded it in half, and placed it on the top of my laptop to cover the webcam. For added measure, I pushed my laptop shut and shoved it beneath the bed.
That night, I felt comfortable. I felt safe. I felt like I wasn’t being watched.
I was wrong.
I woke up every few minutes to the sound of pecking. Tiny little taps. But I saw nothing so I kept falling back asleep — until around three in the morning when I noticed a light. Not from my computer. It was coming from the wall this time.
I positioned my glasses onto my face, crept over to the wall, and saw a pinhole of white light. A hole in the wall. Someone had created a hole in the wall. That must have been the tapping. They must have broken through the sheetrock.
That time, my guess was right. A few minutes later, an eye appeared at the hole, terrified to see me staring back at them. They ran from their dorm. I shoved a desk chair beneath my doorknob and called the campus police.
It turned out my engineer-friend was right. Someone had hacked into my computer. One of my suite-mates who had apparently been obsessed with me. Who had stolen my laptop while I was peeing (in our dorm, not during class) and tampered with it so they could watch me sleep through the webcam. And when I covered the webcam, they improvised and watched me sleep through the hole they had created.
In the end, I moved out of my dorm. My roommate got suspended. And I decided to never let a moment go by without covering my laptop camera again.