Is your doorbell selling your life secrets?

Amazon-owned Ring, the market leader in video doorbells and maker of smart home security cameras, is in the news with a string of stories that beg for the dots to be joined.

Most recently, Ring’s partnership with US police departments has raised concerns over privacy, misuse of data and fears that “Amazon is building a privately run, for-profit surveillance state”. [1] See here, here, here and here for more information.

The company says it “does not use facial recognition technology”, but it has a Head of Face Recognition Research.

And, back in June, it was caught using customers’ video footage in its ads.

So, it’s worth pondering what your doorbell knows about your life.

Your doorbell knows you

If a family member falls seriously ill, your doorbell sees the steady flow of nurses and carers. The uniform that was once a sign of trust could now be a flag for marketing.

Regular visits from service engineers, pest control, florists or police? Your doorbell knows.

You could open your door to more than just a visitor. There’s an algorithm there, too.

After all, the people who come to your door are more public than the search history you’ve already surrendered.

And, Ring’s terms of service of generously broad. The company requires that:

“You hereby grant Ring and its licensees an unlimited, irrevocable, fully paid and royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide right to re-use, distribute, store, delete, translate, copy, modify, display, sell, create derivative works from and otherwise exploit such Shared Content for any purpose and in any media formats in any media channels without compensation to you.”

The UK version is here. The US version is here.

Google (which owns the popular Nest brand of security camera) has similarly broad terms:

When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.

How long before online ads reflect the visitors to your door?

It’s also worth noting that UK Government guidance on home security cameras states:

“you should make sure that the information recorded is used only for the purpose for which your system was installed.”

But, does that conflict with cloud providers’ terms of service?

Sales of home security cameras are booming

The UK market for Smart Home security devices is largest and fastest-growing in Europe. Data and research firm Statista estimates the UK market to be worth $0.51 billion in 2018 and set to grow at an annual rate of 20.8% between now and 2023.[2]

Of the UK’s 25 million homes, 2.2 million (one in eleven) has smart home security devices fitted. This is forecast to be 6.0 million (almost one in four) by 2023.

Many of these cameras use cloud storage. It makes camera hardware cheaper and easier to install. It also gives the benefit of having your video data stored offsite.

But, how much are we at risk of (once again) becoming the product rather than the customer?

Does the tech that protects your pad while you sleep, sell your secrets while you wake?

Photo by Juan Álvarez Ajamil on Unsplash


[1] Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, quoted on BBC (2019), Amazon Ring: Police tie-up criticised by anti-surveillance campaigners, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-49191005

[2] Statista (2019), Smart Home Report 2019 – Security, https://www.statista.com/outlook/digital-markets

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