The debate continues: do video doorbells invade privacy?

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09/18/2019

As a security journalist, I hate to admit that I’m a bit torn on the whole privacy vs. security of video doorbells and whether it’s unethical or not. I mean, I should take a stand, right? Either I support video doorbells or I don’t but, I really do see both sides of this hot debate. 

Here’s an example: My mom lives alone and is a very spry 73-year-old who is quite capable of looking through the peephole of her door to see who’s knocking on it. However, should someone cover her peephole, having a video doorbell, enabling her to see exactly who is at her door before she opens it, and record them, especially if they plan on causing some type of harm, I see is a must. 

But at the same time, let’s say a Girl Scout or Boy Scout rang my mom’s doorbell to sell cookies or popcorn. In my opinion, recording them, or any child for that matter, is very unethical and a huge invasion of privacy, unless, of course, the parents know and give permission. 

To my knowledge there isn’t a video doorbell (yet) that can – with 100 percent accuracy – distinguish between adults who intend to do harmful acts and children. At this point, it just seems video doorbells are an all-or-nothing device that are causing some major disruption.  

A recent ABC news story highlighted attorney, David Barnett, who specializes in privacy law. Barnett suggested letting people know they are under surveillance if using a video doorbell, and take into consideration that these cameras are aimed at property, with the expectation that places such as backyards, windows and bathrooms are private. But, even if the camera is aimed at the front of a home and let’s say children are outside playing in the camera’s recording range, recording them is wrong and what if that camera got hacked? Hackers would then be able to see those children. 

There are also the terms of service of the video doorbell manufacturers that puts a lot of the responsibility on the person installing the device. Ring’s, for example, says, “Privacy and other laws applicable in your jurisdiction may impose certain responsibilities on you and your use of the Products and Services. You agree that it is your responsibility, and not the responsibility of Ring, to ensure that you comply with any applicable laws …” (I’m quite sure people aren’t allowed to point cameras at public streets or into their neighbor’s yards, for example, which if done, can lead to privacy invasion, but where is the responsibility of the manufacturers of these products?)

Then, of course, there’s apps being connected to these video doorbells. Not to pick on Ring, but its new app, Neighbors – where most posts are captured videos – could expose people to a whole new level of privacy invasion, taking the old-school “nosey neighbor” to the extreme. Again, in Ring’s terms of service, it says: “You are solely responsible for all Content that you upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise disseminate using, or in connection with, the Products or Services …” And, again, I ask, shouldn’t the manufacturers of video doorbells take on at least some of the responsibility?

Overall, this topic is a tough one, filled with “ifs, ands and buts,” amazing use cases where lives were saved and the possibility of privacy invasion. This makes me want to subscribe to the old-school method of using the peephole, and if it’s covered, asking “who’s there,” and if there’s no answer, not answering the door. 

What are your thoughts on video doorbells and privacy? Let’s talk about it on Twitter @SSN_Ginger or email me directly at ghill@securitysystemsnews.com