It might be Amazon’s wackiest idea yet — a tiny indoor drone that buzzes as a surveillance hub around people’s houses.
The deployment of the Ring Always Home Cam scheduled for 2021 has stirred up new discussion over the potential for invasive monitoring and breach of privacy.
Amazon says the tiny drone is “designed with safety in mind” and works with its consumers. The drone can be remotely installed nestled in a charging dock and send up to five minutes of video to the user.
However, some advocates voice fears about the system — part of a family of home monitoring technologies marketed by Ring that has been scrutinised for its ties to law enforcement.
As more customers adopt devices that listen and see inside the home, John Verdi, vice president of strategy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington think tank, said the introduction may lead to a “normalisation of surveillance” in everyday life.
“In private spaces such as living rooms and bedrooms, where cameras and microphones and other instruments are deployed, this contributes to the recognition of daily surveillance,” Verdi said.
Nonetheless, Verdi acknowledged that in both the hardware and software policies, “Amazon has put some thought into privacy protections for this model.”
Ryan Calo, a law professor and privacy researcher at the University of Washington, observed that even the sense of being monitored can make people alter actions.
“You feel like there is a social agent in your midst” for some sort of electronic surveillance, Calo said.
“A camera like this will make people feel watched, compromising one of the only remaining privacy opportunities.”
Calo said that by encouraging someone to track other people without their permission, the flying cam “could be incrementally more dangerous than a normal camera.”
“While it is advertised as a home product, Calo has said it could be used in an office and” requires everyone to check in on the person who operates it — and there is no where to hide.
This may encourage, for instance, an abusive person to track a girlfriend.
The British-based Big Brother Watch privacy organisation was more blunt, calling the cam “probably the most chilling monitoring device yet from Amazon.”
— Felt secure or under threat? —
“Our consumers are searching for ways to keep their homes and families healthy, connected, and secure — and our latest products and features, like the Always Home Cam, help do just that,” an Amazon spokeswoman said of the new gadget.
Amazon, which acquired Ring in 2018, has faced a surge of backlash for posting its doorbell camera video videos and collaborations with police forces that have prompted residents to use the cameras.
Yet Amazon said the Ring indoor cameras are not immune to demands from law enforcement and do not have an audio recording microphone.
Calo said that “it could not be up to Amazon — it may be up to a judge if police order a subpoena” despite Amazon’s commitment not to exchange footage with law enforcement.
Separately, some worry that these tracking systems might unexpectedly be used by Amazon or its associates to capture data for marketing.
Though it was not clear how drone data could be used, Calo said that “Amazon has a long track record of seeking to monetize from search history or buying history what it knows about you. It is part of their business strategy.”