Are Amazon’s flying security drones a threat to homeowner privacy?

Discussion
Sources: Ring
Sep 28, 2020
Tom Ryan

Amazon’s smart security subsidiary, Ring, last week at its virtual hardware event launched a flying indoor security camera that is becoming the latest product to set off privacy alarms.

Called the Ring Always Home Cam, the $249 drone, set to launch in 2021, flies around predetermined areas of a home to offer assorted viewpoints before returning to a docking station to charge.

In a blog post, Jamie Siminoff, founder of Ring, wrote that the Always Home Cam will allow owners to monitor multiple areas of their home with just one device, instead of purchasing several cameras.

For privacy, the device only records when in flight, can’t be controlled manually and hums when in motion to provide “privacy you can hear.” The company is touting two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption, arriving later this year, as safeguards against hacking. “Obstacle-avoidance” technology assures the drone won’t crash into people or other things in flight.

Concerns are nevertheless being raised about potential hacks as well as the social impact of the extended level of household surveillance the device offers. To some, Amazon.com could particularly benefit by gaining an additional level of home surveillance for targeting purposes, beyond Alexa’s eavesdropping microphones, Ring’s video doorbells and other Alexa-enabled home devices.

Wrote Geoffrey Fowler, technology columnist for The Washington Post, “The direction the company wants to take connected life is unmistakable: more recordings feeding into Amazon artificial intelligence to automate our homes and our lives.”

Will Oremus, senior writer for OneZero, speculated that the device could be used “to take inventories of users’ stuff and recommend things to buy, or even order refills automatically, sort of like a smart fridge for your whole house.”

Longtime tech journalist Walt Mossberg tweeted, “In a country with no laws regulating digital privacy, anyone who buys this from a company with a history of privacy problems is insane.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are the privacy concerns surrounding Ring Always Home Cam justified? Do you agree that Amazon has an eye on using such devices to support its core retail business?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I’m googly-eyed over Amazon. Yet even I’m unconvinced of any benefit beyond Amazon’s interior surveillance for profitable, personalized data."
"Only half-joking, this is how SkyNet develops."
"Privacy concerns are definitely justified and will turn off certain people; however, for others it will make their lives more efficient and more safe with more peace of mind."

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20 Comments on "Are Amazon’s flying security drones a threat to homeowner privacy?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This comes down to personal choice. I believe that the amount and type of data being ingested by companies like Amazon go far beyond what’s acceptable. However, for many consumers, privacy is a non-issue and so devices like Ring Away are perfectly acceptable and offer meaningful value. While the notion of having a mini drone flying around your house solo seems a little odd, for some situations it may be the ideal solution. Ring Away is simply one more small step toward Amazon becoming the top player in the smart home of the future and retailing in general.

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

I agree, Mark. It does come down to personal choice. Consumers who are willing to buy such products are also aware of the possible privacy concerns. However it is Amazon’s responsibility to clearly outline what would be recorded, stored and for how long. Transparency is critical here!

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Sure, there are concerns about privacy. There are always privacy concerns when it comes to any electronic device – and especially ones with a camera. However I don’t see this as an issue because there is no obligation on anyone to buy or use this product if they feel uncomfortable. It’s hardly like it’s a necessity for living.

That said, I do think there is some sense in having what is, essentially, a mobile camera mainly because it allows people to assess security and safety issues when they are not at home. That’s not a problem for everyone, but there have been occasions when we’ve wondered if a window is closed or if something has been left on. We’re probably not alone! As such, Amazon is helping to solve what is a genuine issue for many people.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I like the fact that I don’t have to buy several cameras for the house. I like the fact that they thought about the security issue as well. As long as my dog wouldn’t be able to get to it and eat it, I think it’s a great step to extend the Ring line of products.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

While it is a choice that a homeowner can make, I doubt whether they are truly informed as to how much of their data and behaviors are being captured and utilized. (I watched the documentary The Social Dilemma last night.) Is this something that’s really needed?

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

I’m googly-eyed over Amazon. Yet even I’m unconvinced of any benefit beyond Amazon’s interior surveillance for profitable, personalized data.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Amazon may gather a bunch of data about me, but I don’t have to help them do it…

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, we are all concerned about privacy. But the reality is, there is no more privacy. If you can’t handle it, you are living in the wrong century.

Perry Kramer
BrainTrust

There are always privacy concerns where cameras are involved. It is a very personal choice and most people are aware of this and are willing to accept the risk that the service providers are doing their best to protect the consumer. However often where the breakdown occurs is in the consumers’ execution of privacy model. i.e. not sharing devices or passwords, using strong passwords, etc. There will be breaches or attack vectors that are exposed that the vendors will have to continue to plug; similar to what we saw with Zoom. I’m not the person who is going to trust that the drone is always making noise or flying where it is supposed to — at least not yet.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I agree with Peter and Nancy on this. While I admit I have to give up some of my historic idea of privacy to even shop on the web or use any streaming service, that doesn’t mean that I want Alexa listening in on my conversations or drones flying around my house recording its contents.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Why would anyone want this in their home? Amazon is using security and fear to seduce consumers to willfully invite Amazon into their home. While the federal government has deemed TikTok a threat to national security because of its connection to the authoritarian Chinese government, Amazon continues its invasion of American households.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Only half-joking, this is how SkyNet develops.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

First, of course there will be concerns over privacy. A video camera in a home or office connected to the Internet — how could there not be? It will be incumbent upon Amazon and other vendors to alleviate the concern. Second, the customer will have to make a choice. My opinion is the benefit outweighs the concern over privacy.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I agree with the privacy concerns. Yet I have an even more fundamental business concern: Why?

It looks like Ring has done what too many have done in home technology. They have created something because they could — not because they should.

Where is the added value for the customer? I just don’t see it. Certainly some “gee whiz” tech geeks will love it and that’s nice. But it’s also a tiny market.

We need to stay focused on market reasons for products to thrive — not tech reasons to get headlines.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

I think privacy concerns around Ring Always Home Cam are completely justified. The amount of data Amazon is collecting is absolutely nauseating. Compare this with today’s other discussion around only 43 percent of brands having unified cross-platform analytics capabilities. Amazon has the best cross-platform analytics and is taking it to the next level – inside your home. Personally, I think the privacy concerns way outweigh any of the benefits this device could provide.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

I may be a minority, but I hate drones in every way. I find them to be scary, invasive and totally disruptive. Every time one flies near me I feel creepy and overwhelmed and I trust NO company to do the right thing with the data. Experience has shown that there are very few truly altruistic companies … and Google, Amazon and Apple are all vying for who can control the most data and ultimately become the center chip for all things in our lives.

Is this Amazon product a valuable idea? Yep. Do I trust it? Nope!

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

It is a personal decision regarding privacy, but I was an adopter of self-driving vacuum cleaners and it seems to always find spaces to get stuck in. A flying drone inside the home is just asking for accidents from my POV, regardless of how good the avoidance technology is. If you have cameras in the entry points, do you really need a mobile drone in an empty house? If you are running the drone with people in the house, I am envisioning all sorts of unintended personal consequences.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

While some of Amazon’s stuff can be pretty neat, not enthused with a fly buzzing around inside my home. Especially one with a camera. If they can shrink it, it might be an option for our national surveillance agencies.

Where it fits with retail is data collection to a far higher percentage than before and it can tap into color schemes, merchandise owned, repair projects needed and more. A device moving through the home snapping pictures at random is far from secure. Imagine if it buzzes into the room where you’re chastising your child, or other very personal and private engagements (which I’ll leave to your imagination). The drone could even be shoulder surfing given the amount of time we now work from home. What happened to the home being your castle?

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The march of innovation is inevitable and this is a very cool product from Ring, although I’m sure not for everyone. Privacy concerns are definitely justified and will turn off certain people; however, for others it will make their lives more efficient and more safe with more peace of mind. I don’t see Amazon using the data to support their core retail business, at least any time too soon, but it seems like a logical step for them at some point down the line.

ArielWhite
Guest

From a home security standpoint, these drones are an excellent idea. I’m not sure about you pet parents out there, but I wouldn’t get much work done if I knew I could watch my dog all day.

From a cybersecurity standpoint, I think it’s important for buyers to be aware that anything that connects to the internet has the potential to be hacked. We’ve seen how easy it is for webcams and cell phone cameras to be taken over by nefarious actors, and these drones are much the same.

While the usage of our private data by large corporations like Amazon is a primary concern, I’d also be wary of the fact that threat actors will eventually find a vulnerability that allows them access to the device and by proxy, the user’s home and privacy.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I’m googly-eyed over Amazon. Yet even I’m unconvinced of any benefit beyond Amazon’s interior surveillance for profitable, personalized data."
"Only half-joking, this is how SkyNet develops."
"Privacy concerns are definitely justified and will turn off certain people; however, for others it will make their lives more efficient and more safe with more peace of mind."

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