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Are Smart Doorbells Spies?

By Hannah Pan

With “smart” technology becoming ever so popular, it’s no surprise that home security products are undergoing constant advancements and innovations. However, one unassuming item has become an unlikely disruptor of the smart devices market: the doorbell.

Advertisement of Ring Smart Doorbells

What are smart doorbells, and who makes them?

Smart doorbells are equipped with video cameras that allow homeowners to monitor their front doors. The top manufacturer right now is Ring, a crowdfunded startup that got millions in investments from Richard Branson, Goldman Sachs, and others before being bought by Amazon. While Ring is the main producer of smart doorbells, there are a few competitors on the rise, including Google Nest Hello. All of these video doorbells have a wide array of capabilities including facial recognition, customized alerts, and package detection.

Google Nest Hello Smart Doorbell

How many people use them, and what happens to the data?

Market research from early 2019 showed that 25% of US homes plan to buy a smart doorbell. As of 2018, Ring had a 97% share of the smart doorbell market, and when they were acquired by Amazon, they had over 1 million users in the US.

In an effort to create a “new neighborhood watch,” Ring has agreed to work with over 400 US police forces, allowing law enforcement to request users’ video doorbell footage. Users may decline the requests, but they also have the ability to flag certain faces as “suspicious”. In addition, they may publicly share their camera footage to Ring’s social network.

What are the repercussions of this?

Ring’s partnership with law enforcement caused many to voice concerns over privacy and personal liberties. People who are flagged as “suspicious” may be exposed to additional surveillance and risk, and some have pointed out that this is likely to result in more arrests of innocent people, especially people of color. In addition, privacy advocates have pointed out that users may be reluctant to decline requests from law enforcement. While Ring’s intentions may be to increase neighborhood security, they are considered by many to be a massive surveillance system.



Editor: Judy Zhang

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