Smart home trends: can a smart doorbell help keep your home safe?
Gone are the days of unsightly CCTV cameras and grainy, indistinguishable footage – smart doorbells have emerged as a desirable home-security accessory because of their high-quality footage, unobtrusiveness, and accessibility.
Smart home gadgets have been growing in popularity over the past few years as connectivity and functionality have improved.
Some smart-home products might be a few years away from reaching full functionality – for example, smart refrigerators can already warn you if you’re running low on your favourite brand of oat milk, but they can’t yet restock themselves.
Smart doorbells, however, not only perform the full functionality of their analogue predecessors but have evolved into much more.
Namely, a smart doorbell is as much of a home security device as it is a conventional doorbell, warning of arrivals to the front door.
The main feature of the smart doorbell is a high-spec camera mounted where the peephole of the past used to be.
Because the whole device is connected to a wifi network, the camera feeds into other devices, like a smartphone or tablet. This means owners can monitor their doorstep remotely, and even communicate with visitors through a two-way speaker system.
The additional security that a smart doorbell provides is the key benefit for many people.
Users can let a friendly face know that you will be back shortly or, if they have a code-based door lock, users can even remotely open the door to welcome visitors with a tap of the app.
Most new smart doorbells can send a push notification to your phone, tablet, or computer whenever movement is detected on your doorstep, and — depending on your camera and set-up — you can record and keep the footage.
In a world of online shopping, this effectively means never missing the delivery driver again, as users can direct delivery people where to leave packages.
However, as connectivity and convenience improve, so do concerns about vulnerabilities in the system.
A recent Oxfordshire case saw neighbours pitted against each other in court over claims that an Amazon Ring doorbell “unjustifiably invaded” its next-door neighbour’s privacy.
Currently, CCTV on a property is exempt from the Data Protection Act and General Data Protection Regulation. However, if the camera captures anything beyond property limits, such as the pavement or a neighbour’s house, it might be in violation of privacy legislation.
The offending party, though recognisably acting in good faith to prevent burglaries, is liable to pay up to £100,000 in compensation.
While the ruling most likely will not affect standard doorbell usage, owners are encouraged to be thoughtful about camera placement to avoid filming neighbouring properties.
As a response to the case, Ring has issued a firmware update for all Ring devices that disables the automatic recording of audio when motion was detected, in an attempt to protect the privacy of innocent people coming and going from the vicinity of the cameras.
The connectivity of the device itself can also be a concern. To stream the video and audio, doorbells must be on a wireless network, and as such they might be vulnerable to hacks if the network in question is not completely secure – as many home networks are not.
In 2020, dozens of Ring users sued Amazon in the US after they claimed their devices were hacked and users subjected to torment by hackers who used the intercom feature to shout harassment and even taunt children.
Amazon, who own Ring, has strengthened the security on newer generations of its signature doorbell, but some concerns remain.
Though not all doorbells rely on the cloud to store the data – Eufy cameras, for example, store images locally – Ring devices, which currently dominate the market, sends all its data wireless through the home’s wi-fi router to its own cloud storage, leaving the network more vulnerable to external intervention.
Incidents of hacking remain rare; however, many users have found that the benefits of smart doorbells outweigh the risks.
Beyond the convenience of having a live feed of the front door for deliveries and notifications, the smart doorbell functions as a de facto security camera and home monitor – and not only for crime prevention, but for law enforcement and conviction.
Because the cameras can make use of facial recognition software, the devices can be invaluable to police investigating a break-in. There is already precedent for using footage from smart doorbells in court, both in assisting the identification of a suspect, as well as the actual footage of a crime occurring.
Of course, as with any piece of data in the hands of private citizens, there are some inherent risks of mismanagement – such as racially profiling visitors, as well as withholding or distributing data improperly, particularly on social media.
Innovation in technology is rampant and, more often than not, outstrips the legal frameworks that govern it.
It's likely that recent cases will affect how smart doorbells operate and can be used, however, it's already undeniable that the convenience and security aspects these little devices bring means users will continue to seek out these products in droves.
Hiscox are currently offering Law Society members who purchase a home insurance policy on or after 1 September 2021 a free Eufy Video Doorbell worth £179.