I have implemented home automation since the mid-90s with X10, and today I have around 100 home automation devices in-use across multiple vendors, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Haiku, Provision2, Samsung, Somfy, and Savant. With all the progress over 25 years, the conversations never change. It has always been about the degree of complexity, cost, utility, security, and privacy.
It's nice to see some things don't change and were best exemplified with Amazon's recent home device announcements last week, including several from Amazon’s Ring. Regardless of the product, these four attributes were debated, some intelligently, others not so. I saw most of the fear-mongering around Ring's Always Home Cam, the company's flying solution to multiple cameras. Like many in the press and analyst community, I received Ring’s version, but as an analyst with 30 years of privacy and security analysis under my belt, I want to provide my take on it and set the record straight.
About the Always Home Cam
The Always Home Cam is Ring's new indoor security drone with a camera attached at the base. The Always Home Cam will seek to provide full security for your home and alleviate the need for multiple camera devices pointed at different directions inside the house. The device will be available for purchase in early 2021 and will cost $249.99. The device is limited to flying on a single story, has a 5-minute battery life, and takes around an hour to recharge. In my mind, this is the first product that offers full house coverage in a single device and requires minimal user setup and maintenance. It works in conjunction with a Ring Alarm Security Kit and only leaves its docking station if unexcepted activity happens within the home while the security system is in "Away" mode.
In-home privacy concerns
Like I mentioned above, using home automation devices for security is nothing new. I have used single direction cameras with audio and video for years to protect my family and property and notify me of any disturbances. The Always Home Cam could potentially replace five cameras that I currently use for a lake house which is a great reason to upgrade. But like most home automation products, privacy becomes a vital issue for consumers. Putting voice and camera devices in your home has raised consumer concerns for years, but it hasn't stopped them from being wildly successful and trusted by millions of users. One of the most significant initial objections that I saw in the media was the device's potential privacy infringement. I understand the initial concern, but when we look at the device and its features, it doesn't give me many reasons to feel that way. Since the device's camera is covered fully while in the docking station, the only potential privacy issue likely to arise is a possible audio leakage. Oh wait, the camera doesn't have a microphone, which means it cannot record audio. Not to mention the "not so stealthy" noise that the drone will put off when it is cruising throughout the house. It was hard to tell how loud the Always Home Cam is from the product video, but I assume it will be quite loud like most drones are. Other media scrutiny came from the question, what if some could hack into the device and fly and control it from a mobile device or PC? The Ring Control Center requires mandatory two-factor authentication and videos are encrypted in transit and at rest. Sure, it would be nice to wake the device and fly it via mobile phone, but the option is not there for the first iteration. The Always Home Cam can only fly on prerecorded, specific flight paths that the user has laid out beforehand. What that means is, the device is never going to fly somewhere you haven't taken it before. There is no reason to fear that a drone will pop up into your office or bathroom if you haven't programmed the drone to do so. So, for those worried about the drone coming into intimate areas of your home while you are not there, there isn't a chance.
Ironically, we are okay with setting up several cameras in the house that record both audio and video, but the idea of a drone flying without a mic while we are not home concerned us? Like most home security devices, it will take some time to build consumer trust, but I believe there are few reasons to worry about this device infringing on your privacy.
When talking about home security products, customer data, and information security should be at the forefront of that conversation. With the Always Home Cam, users have complete control of their videos. When a burglary or suspicious offense occurs, sharing that footage is entirely at the user's discretion, users can set how long the video files will remain stored within the cloud before being deleted and can also decide who they share those videos with and revoke those sharing privileges at any time. If a third party could control the length of video storage time or how the device navigates throughout the house, I would be concerned, but those options currently don't exist. The Always Home Cam is limited to the inside of your home. That means if someone wanted to alter a flight path or harm the integrity of the device, they would have to be let inside your home willingly. The Always Home Cam initially seems very secure, plus without the option to operate the device apart from programming flight paths, hackers won't be able to drive this drone around your home at will.
For those that doubt the functionality of the Always Home Camera, I will have to agree to disagree. I have used five Ring cameras in my lake house for the last few years to keep it secure while I am at my primary residence over an hour away. I run into making special trips out to the house to charge five different devices. Not only do I have to drive two and a half hour's round trip, but I also must sit and wait for the tools to charge. The Always Home camera would likely eliminate those two pain points in my home security system. The drone can recharge in the docking station within an hour. The 5 minutes of flight time offered isn't much, but it doesn't take more than 5 minutes to cover an entire house floor. Once you have mapped out the paths for the Always Home Cam to fly, you have complete control of when and where it takes flight. Suppose you're concerned about the drone running into unforeseen objects like new furniture or a dog, no need to fret. The Always Home Cam will automatically return to its docking station if any unpredictable items arise in its path thanks to obstacle avoidance technology. There are very few reasons to question the functionality of the Always Home Cam. I haven't been able to test one myself, but I cannot wait to get one if it works as advertised.
The Always Home Cam seems like a compelling alternative to covering the entire interior of your house with security cameras pointed in every direction. I believe this democratizes whole house coverage. I understand the initial concern around the intrusion of personal privacy and security, but after digging deeper into the device's function and features, it gives me little reason to question its integrity. Anyone that plots this device as a "huge privacy concern" hasn't spent enough time analyzing the integrity of the device. Home security is essential, and the Always Home Cam is a step in the right direction for those looking to streamline their interior home security system. It may take a while for users to get comfortable with a device flying around in the house while they aren't there, but I am sure it will come. Excellent job, Ring.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.