Why You Should—Or Shouldn’t—Buy A Home Security Camera
How to protect your privacy and that of your neighbours by enabling encryption and other settings.
How to protect your privacy and that of your neighbours by enabling encryption and other settings.
When a thief emptied my mailbox a few years ago, I scoured the neighbourhood social network Nextdoor to see if it was part of a trend. My feed was full of video-doorbell footage, mostly of package pirates and wild parrots. I realised then just how many devices were likely recording my daily walk up and down the street.
Home surveillance cameras—from Ring, Nest, Arlo and others—are the eyes and ears of many neighbourhoods. Around 14% of U.S. households with broadband have installed an internet-connected camera, according to research firm Parks Associates. Their popularity has drawn the attention of law enforcement (not to mention hackers), which raises new issues for people looking to set one up.
They’re in demand in part because professional systems can cost hundreds of dollars to install, along with steep monthly fees. You can buy a smart camera for as low as US$50, pay around US$4 a month for cloud storage and get activity-based notifications on your phone.
Cameras are convenient for knowing when packages are delivered or when the dog walker drops off the pooch while you’re not around. But they capture sensitive data that’s sent from your home to company servers—and you should know how to protect your footage from being seen or shared without your permission.
Amazon.com Inc.-owned Ring gave surveillance footage to law enforcement 11 times this year without a warrant or customers’ consent. The company said the requests met its exception for emergencies. In the past, hackers with stolen credentials broke into Ring camera web portals and scared the living heck out of unsuspecting families with the devices’ two-way talk capabilities.
“Ring holds a high bar for itself and deeply scrutinizes each emergency request,” a spokeswoman said. The company might provide information to law enforcement when there is danger of death or serious physical injury, such as a kidnapping or attempted murder, she said. “These emergency requests are reviewed by trained professionals who disclose information only when that legal standard is met,” she added.
If you’re uncomfortable with a company making that determination, there are settings you can enable to prevent sharing, as well as platforms that make privacy the default. Here’s what you should think about when installing a smart surveillance camera.
When Ring, Google’s Nest or Arlo send footage from the camera to the company’s servers, that data is automatically encrypted. Translation: It’s protected if a hacker gains access to those servers.
However, the companies themselves can decrypt that data and—if legally or morally compelled—share it. A spokeswoman for Alphabet Inc.’s Google said that to date, the company has never given camera data to authorities without customer consent, but it reserves the right to do so if it considers a situation an emergency.
There is a method of protection, called end-to-end encryption, that would hide videos from both hackers and the companies. “It means that only your device, for example, your phone, can see the video that is recorded,” said David Choffnes, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University.
End-to-end encryption, while recommended by Prof. Choffnes and others, isn’t always an option. Neither Google Nest nor Arlo offers the ability to fully encrypt camera videos. Ring has an opt-in setting for many products, but not its battery-powered models. A spokeswoman confirmed that Ring wouldn’t be able to decrypt such videos for law enforcement.
There are, however, trade-offs for turning on Ring’s end-to-end encryption. You can only view video on authorized mobile devices, not through your web browser. Some features are disabled, such as image previews within notifications and the ability to watch streams on other Amazon devices.
On Apple Inc.’s HomeKit Secure Video platform, end-to-end encryption is the default. The service requires an iCloud+ plan of 50GB or higher, though the videos won’t eat into your allotted storage. You need a home “hub” in the form of a HomePod, iPad or Apple TV. And, of course, everyone who wants access to the camera streams must use an Apple device.
There is a limited selection of HomeKit devices. I like Eve’s indoor cam for its slim profile, as well as Logitech International SA’s Circle View doorbell and camera for face recognition and outdoor use. Because all the footage flows through the Home app, it’s fine to mix and match brands.
Just remember that end-to-end encryption is only as secure as your devices. “If someone else can access your device or your passphrase—for example, a family member, or even law enforcement—they can see the videos,” said Prof. Choffnes.
When you set up a camera outdoors, often mounted at the doorbell, see if it’s pointed at any area that would be considered a private space such as, for example, a neighbour’s bedroom. Generally, public roads and your own front porch are OK. Set up zones that only trigger recordings when someone enters that space. (Ring, Google Nest, Arlo and HomeKit devices have this functionality.) Ring users can also set up privacy zones, which blackout areas from your camera’s field of view, so they aren’t recorded in videos.
Indoor cameras need slightly different considerations. Many people avoid putting them in bedrooms, for instance. These devices will be watching your personal spaces, so choose a brand with strong security and end-to-end encryption. Use activity zones and automation—such as only recording when you’re not at home or on a schedule—to limit the amount of footage collected.
Make sure you have a long, unique password and two-factor authentication protecting the camera account, as well as a strong passcode on your phone. With your login, hackers could watch and listen in on live video feeds of your home.
Let everyone in your household, including guests, babysitters and housekeepers, know there’s a camera around. (And, seriously, don’t be creepy about where you put it.)
You might already have a security device in your home if you have an Amazon Echo product. Microphones on Echo speakers are trained to recognize the sound of broken glass and smoke alarms. Echo Show devices with cameras can be live-streamed remotely.
Many brands let you clip recordings, which can then be posted to social media. Ring even has its own network, called Neighbours.
Even if you feel tempted to shame a person you suspect of wrongdoing, take a breath before sharing. It’s legal to record someone in public, where there is no expectation of privacy, according to law nonprofit New Media Rights. But the video could include landmarks that reveal where you live. And you should avoid situations leading to wrongful accusations or mistaken identity.
Ring has specific guidelines on what’s allowed on its Neighbors app. Sharing a video of a hit-and-run is OK. Posting footage of someone walking through an unfenced front yard isn’t.
Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 31, 2022.
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Vacationers scratching their travel itch this season are sending prices through the roof. Here’s how some are making trade-offs.
Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.
The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.
Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.
“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.
With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.
Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.
Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)
The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.
“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”
For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.
For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.
Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.
Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.
The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.
“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.
Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.
For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.
For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.
Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.
Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.
McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.
“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”
Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.
Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.
He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.
He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.
“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.
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