How to check which websites have access to your PC’s webcam

Through the webcam, hackers could spy on us using the websites we visit. Here's what you need to check to be protected

Nowadays almost every computer owner also has a webcam, either for smartworking, or for the need to make video calls with distant friends and relatives. On laptops the webcam is always integrated, on desktops it is one of the most frequently added accessories. In any case, however, the webcam can bring several risks to privacy.

We're not just talking about the many videoconferencing and video calling platforms, which obviously need access to the webcam but don't always guarantee the transparency that the user would like, but also about common websites that, very often, could check our camera for no apparent reason. All the websites we visit through the most popular browsers, behind the scenes could access the information captured by the camera/video camera, microphone and USB devices (the connection used by all webcams on the market). So if it wants to, a site can spy on us but we, if we know how, can prevent it.

How to prevent sites from accessing your webcam

The four most popular web browsers in the world are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari. All four can allow a site to use the webcam without our knowledge. But, at the same time, on all four browsers we can prevent it from doing so. Unfortunately, however, it's only effective if we block one site at a time.

On Chrome, for example, we'll have to click on the padlock icon (or "i", for some sites) that we find to the left of the site's URL. Then we have to choose "Site Settings" and we'll see a long list of permissions granted (or not granted) to the site in question. The choices available are "Ask (Default)", "Allow" and "Block".

A very similar process for Firefox: from the icon with the padlock, in the same position, we'll have to click on the gear icon next to "Permissions" (permissions already granted we'll see them listed right away).

On Edge, which is based on Chromium, by clicking on the padlock we'll be able to choose "Site Permissions" and choose from the same options available on Chrome.

Finally on SafariĀ we'll have to choose the Safari menu > Settings for the website and then set preferences for camera, microphone and, while we're at it, screen sharing and location as well.

Deleting cookies from spy sites

If we notice that a site that has no reason to access our webcam is doing so, then we can rest assured that that site is collecting quite a bit more information about our browsing. At this point the most useful advice is to go into the privacy preferences of our browser (or our browsers, if we visit that site from multiple apps) and delete all cookies related to that domain. Cookies are, in fact, the first tool through which a site collects information about us and what we do online.