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The debate continues: do video doorbells invade privacy?

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Wednesday, September 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

Despite privacy concerns, readers bullish on biometrics

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08/23/2019

YARMOUTH, Maine—With the debate on biometrics and data privacy heating up, and more and more states seeking to regulate the collection, use and retention of biometric data, this month’s News Poll focuses on the future of biometrics and its role in security.

Discovered at DEFCON 27: automated license plate readers (ALPRs) being hoodwinked by clothing

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

It seems Joe Public is shouting “privacy here, privacy there, privacy everywhere,” as people are pushing back against certain technologies that could, or people believe could, misidentify them and track, monitor and record their actions, or be the catalyst to their personal information and identity being stolen.

It’s a double-edged sword really; people want to use the technology to ensure safety and security, but at the same time, they want no interference with their privacy. It’s all or nothing. Unfortunately, we aren’t at a point with technology where “good” people are automatically excluded from the “bad.” However, one solution to protect privacy presented itself about a week ago at none other than DEFCON 27

As over 25,000 security professionals and researchers, federal government employees, lawyers, journalists, and of course, hackers with an interest in anything and everything that can be hacked descended on Las Vegas’ Paris, Bally’s, Flamingo and Planet Hollywood Convention Centers, professional ethical hacker and now, fashion designer, Kate Rose, debuted her weapon of choice against ALPRs and surveillance — t-shirts, hoodies, jackets, dresses and skirts. 

Knows as Adversarial Fashion, each garment is purposely designed to trigger ALPRs and inject data rubbish into systems used by states and its contractors, believed by some to monitor and track civilians. Rose tested a series of modified license plate images with commercial ALPR APIs and created fabric patterns that read into LPRs as if they are authentic license plates. Priced at no more than 50 bucks, tops, you too can now fool ALPRs with your clothes! 

Don’t feel like shelling out your hard-earned money? Not to worry! Rose lists all the resources needed to make your own computer vision-triggering fashion and fabric designs on her site, along with a hyperlinked list of libraries and APIs, image editing tools, color palette extraction tools and textile pattern tutorials. In addition, slides from her DEFCON 27 Crypto and Privacy Village talk, “Sartorial Hacking to Combat Surveillance,” offering the following how-to guide of designing your own anti-surveillance clothes: 

  1. Choose a recognition system and experiment with design constraints, starting with high confidence images.
  2. Test tolerances by making slight modifications to source images. 
  3. Make notes of “cue” attributes that affect confidence scores. 
  4. Plot enough images to determine what seems to work. 
  5. Use images that work to design a pattern and digitally print it onto fabric. 

I’m not too sure if this is a 5-step method to early retirement, but I can say people are demanding privacy and obviously, being very creative in their fight for it.