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I installed the latest version of Linux Mint, and I've run into an issue that is both annoying, and also makes me kind of nervous.

Randomly while the computer is on, the Webcam light will turn on, and it won't go off until I reboot the machine.

Only things I've installed are Chrome and Skype, and I use Pidgin.

But nothing should be using the webcam.

Why is the webcam light turning on, and how do I disable it?

I never use the webcam, so disabling the device completely is fine by me.

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You can check if really no application is using the webcam by issuing this command:

sudo lsof /dev/video*

If it returns nothing - no app is using the webcam, otherwise, the process info will be listed.

  • Since *nix doesn't seem to be "event driven" how would we detect use of /dev/video0 without polling? – jchook Mar 20 at 23:58
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    It probably could be done using inotify and IN_OPEN event. Check this and this. Note that inotify man page says that various pseudo-filesystems such as /proc, /sys, and /dev/pts are not monitorable with inotify. – sm4rk0 Mar 21 at 12:04
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I'm sure the webcam drivers just aren't quite as polished for Linux as they are for Windows and that explains what you're seeing.

That said, I would also compare the CPU usage when you're using the webcam, to when it lights up by itself and you're not using it. It would be very interesting to see if your PC is doing the same amount of work in the background.

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How to disable it depends on the extent to which you wish to disable it and how permanent you want that disabling to be.

  • Simple answer: Electrical tape.

  • More complex, nicer answer: A piece of paper over the lens and light + electrical tape.

  • Even more complex answer: There is frequently a BIOS setting to disable the camera.

  • Harder core: Open the laptop, identify the cable leading to the camera, and disconnect it.

Reporting the bug would be a nice thing to do also.

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If the laptop in question is one of the newer thinkpads (eg., t430), then there is a separate "night light" next to the webcam (called a "thinklight (tm)") which is unrelated to the webcam. The webcam actually has a smaller green light that indicates if the camera is on. The bright white "think light" is there just to illuminate the keyboard in "less than perfect lighting conditions" (from t430 user guide, t430_ug_en.pdf).

To turn on/off the "thinklight", press "fn + spacebar" (this also works under linux mint). This might be easy to accidentally trigger, especially if you also use gnome-do (which I do), which I have mapped to "super+space" (i.e., "windowskey+space"). (Note: and for the t430, I've also remapped/swapped (via bios) the fn & ctrl keys, making it even more likely to accidentally trigger the "thinklight".)

To see if the webcam is actually on, you can install the package "cameramonitor" (as per package description: "designed for GNOME, but should work as well on KDE and Xfce"); it checks to see if the device is active & reports (via system tray icon / graphical notification) when the camera turns on/off.

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