For decades, people have not thought twice about stepping up to someone’s front door and ringing the bell. However, thanks to the advent of surveillance cameras and the popularity of video doorbells, strolling up to someone’s door could have implications that nobody would have imagined a decade ago.
Looking at the Brief History of Video Doorbells
Video doorbells started becoming part of the suburban homes’ arsenal of security tools in the last few years. This, in part, is thanks to the invention originally called “Doorbot” in 2013. In fact, inventor Jamie Siminoff tried to sell his idea on the hit show Shark Tank. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Siminoff), the Sharks were not sold enough to invest in the product.
Fast forward to today, and Doorbot is already one of the most successful products to get featured in the show. Consumers bought into the idea of creating safer neighborhoods for all, thus skyrocketing its sales to new heights. With this, Doorbot—or Ring LLC—is now a billion-dollar empire specializing in smart homes and smart home security.
Analyzing the Anatomy of a Typical Camera Doorbell
The doorbell itself looks innocuous and unassuming enough that a small box with a camera can easily be mounted right next to the front door. Millions of homes around the globe now have one and are reaping the benefits of a good night’s rest—knowing they are safe and protected at all times.
Aside from keeping the home safe and secure, these devices also bring about interesting uses and stories such as providing information on lost dogs or protecting packages from the clutches of thieves, just to name a few.
Camera doorbells are built as a smart device with Wi-Fi, which allows users to see, hear, talk to, and record people who come to their door. These are all controlled through a smartphone or an internet-connected device. On the flip side, however, this concept of home connectivity is sparking concerns over both its privacy and security.
Discussing the Controversies Surrounding Video Doorbells
Despite its many benefits, capturing so much personal information on camera doorbells without people’s consent is an alarming thought. Today, privacy and security concerns have become a headache for the aforementioned company Ring LLC. During its infancy period, the organization—which is now owned by e-commerce giant Amazon—faced countless legal troubles for its ring cameras. Thankfully, they were able to weather the storm slowly but surely.
Now, some cities are partnering with Amazon to distribute its ring cameras at a discount to deter crime. Amazon also continued to fend off allegations that their devices—both doorbell cameras and their newer inside cameras—are violating privacy and are not secure.
Addressing These Privacy Concerns
Ring has partnered with law enforcement agencies in the United States, allowing agencies access to its camera data. Privacy advocates, for one, say this is a slippery slope.
Some people say that, on paper, these are surveillance that is merely disguised as home protection. These concerns, unsurprisingly, prompted the US Senate to issue a letter to then Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos in late 2019. In a nutshell, it urged him to reconsider Ring and its practices, saying the American people have a right to know who else is looking at the data they provide and if that information is secure from hackers.
Usually, these come with default usernames and passwords. Oftentimes, the applications that the products are built upon are not tested for security vulnerabilities, so they get shipped in here with built-in security vulnerabilities.
Many experts—some former hackers—advise to not just plug in a USB drive, as it can be the primary gateway of cyber attackers. Ring, like other internet-enabled devices, is highly vulnerable. A hacker can just simply switch on the victim’s webcam and could spy on them at the drop of a hat.
For its part, Amazon and Ring are now trying to address some of these concerns and are now in the process of issuing patches for vulnerabilities. They are getting a lot faster with patching and remediation. At the end of the day, though, privacy and security remain concerns and are not likely to go away anytime soon.
So, for now, experts say if you have a Ring or any other camera doorbell that is connected to the internet, know that there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
In an age where internet connection is part of everyday life, the number one thing is to make sure that if you are setting up accounts, you have to factor in strong controls. Do not ever use the same passwords for multiple accounts and reuse passwords. Basically, you must use strong passwords. It also goes without saying that you should not share your passwords with anyone.
We hope this article helps shed some light on your decision to use or pass on camera doorbells for your home. If you have any comments and/or reactions, please feel free to voice them out in the comments section below.
Dennis has been a professional security consultant space based out of Chapel Hill for over 15 years. His experience runs the gamut between government and private organizations (specifically in the finance and insurance sector) with a specialty in consulting for executive and high-value protection surrounding Kidnap and Ransom mitigation.