The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a proposed order aimed at Ring, the popular home security company owned by Amazon. The order is the result of several years of government action taken in an attempt to change the way Ring does business. So here’s the million-dollar question: will the FTC order have any impact on home security in general?
The simple answer is ‘no’. The FTC’s order applies to Ring and Ring only. However, one could make the case that other companies will make any changes they feel are necessary to avoid having a similar ruling issued against them. At the very least, the $5.8 million Ring will pay as a result of past security failings could be a significant enough deterrent to other security device manufacturers.
Ring’s Main Issues
According to Vivint Smart Home, a nationwide home automation security company that supports Ring devices, Ring came onto the scene a few years ago when it introduced the world’s first video doorbell. The company did so well in its first few years that Amazon decided to acquire them. That is purportedly when the trouble began.
The FTC maintains that Ring failed consumers by:
- Failing to ensure that their cameras provided a secure means of monitoring private spaces in a home.
- Giving employees and contractors access to videos recorded in private areas, without consumer consent.
- Burying privacy disclosures and consent language in legalese, preventing customers from actually understanding what they were agreeing to.
- Failing to obtain adequate consumer consent for reviewing and using highly sensitive data.
Regulators acknowledge that Ring did initially take steps to improve the customer consent process back in 2018. But they also contend that the steps were inadequate. Now the company faces a $5.8 million fine and significant corrective actions outlined in the FTC order.
Privacy Will Remain a Concern
The ruling against Ring puts the company on notice that the FTC is paying attention. In addition, the FTC ruling counts as a small victory for privacy advocates. But privacy will remain a concern as long as consumers continue to install video cameras and other home security/automation devices that send data to the cloud.
Vivint explains that any video surveillance camera capable of being monitored in real time and from a remote location is utilizing the cloud. Data from the camera is being sent to the cloud for monitoring and storage. That automatically puts the data at risk. The only way to avoid such risks is to keep everything local.
The way to do this with video surveillance is to install cameras that only record data to an onboard storage medium. Watching video footage would require extracting the medium and loading it into a computer or tablet. It is less convenient than cloud storage and monitoring, but it’s the only way to guarantee privacy.
Little Will Change from the Public’s Perspective
Ring will do what it needs to do in order to get back on the FTC’s good side. They will pay their fine and implement the necessary changes. But little will change from the public’s perspective. Ring devices will do the same thing they have always done. Consumers will continue giving their consent by checking a tick box indicating they have read and agreed to terms and conditions.
The FTC ruling is but a microcosm of the state of modern home security and automation. A certain amount of privacy is surrendered whenever cloud-based security and automation solutions are employed. That is just the nature of the technology. That’s not going to change no matter what the FTC does.