Home video camera — opportunities and risks

In the previous story we talked about video and the prevalence of new solutions at the recent ISCWest trade show. The ubiquity of video was striking, and clearly this is supporting a number of business strategies in the residential security industry — some of which are natural, some creative and some quite frankly, alarming!

So while the ease of installing video cameras has increased in recent years, many consumers still turn to their existing security providers who are evidently happy to capitalize on the allure of video and the business potential that it offers. We already made note of ‘available anywhere’ online video storage appealing to a sizeable segment of households, creating a lucrative way for security companies to monetize a cloud delivered service and increase monthly revenues. Another approach some of the companies we met are taking is upselling new devices to their existing subscribers. The standard practice in this case seems to involve proprietary (often branded) cameras that are tied to 2 year (or longer term) contracts on newer “smart” incarnations of a legacy monitoring service.

Another, and more creative way video is becoming economically useful (particularly to operators) is by leveraging it not to increase revenues or extend a contract term but to reduce cost, specifically that of false alarms.

False alarms

For those that don’t know, false alarms in residential security are largely due to human error. Such events not only increase service costs due to the greater demand for call center personnel, but also due to wrongful dispatch of emergency response and law enforcement.

In one particularly revealing conversation with an executive from a leading security monitoring service we delved into the challenging topic of false alarm reduction and techniques both being used and considered by service providers. The individual we spoke to was very knowledgeable on the topic, having decades of experience serving dozens of alarm companies throughout North America. Monitoring centers possess some tricks to reduce false alarms in manners that are hidden from the consumer (more on that in a future post) but monitoring companies are clearly looking for new solutions that manage to both increase accuracy of alarm events and provide tangible value to the consumer.

We were presented with the idea of offering consumers the ability for a security call center agent to go beyond two-way voice that is already embedded in some alarm systems, and actually remotely view the video feed in the subscriber’s home. The case was made that with this capability, the alarm monitoring company will be able to verify a burglary in real time and thus dispatch law enforcement more effectively.

Wait a minute!

While making logical sense from a security perspective, virtual alarm bells (excused the pun) started ringing in our minds with respect to privacy risks and the potential of abuse. As we left the exhibit floor and walked back to our hotel we were struggling with the idea, and its implications. These types of things have the potential to really turn ugly if a rogue employee working for an alarm monitoring company or a cybercriminal were to access video footage or even control the cameras, even if they had a shutter or other mechanism (some cameras like this interesting one from Ezviz points at the ceiling when privacy is on). Does the typical customer really stop to consider those risks and understand the implications of a video camera inside their home?

Conclusion

Video has long been a part of commercial and industrial security, but we are now seeing a real growth in residential video being tied in to residential security, whether it is self-installed or part of a professionally monitored system.

These are still early days in terms of the widespread adoption of home security cameras but the industry as a whole needs to seriously consider the combined interests of all parties — increased security, lower costs and higher accuracy without risking the privacy and safety of consumers. While companies can develop functional limitations, policies and procedures to safeguard proper use of video content (including evidence) and privacy, the human factor has repeatedly shown to be the weakest link.

We should ask ourselves at what point home security, particularly video-enhanced security, despite the numerous benefits comes at too high of a cost. Perhaps we can all take a moment to think about the possibility of “somebody’s watching me”.