Amazon has made the news again for its privacy concerns, but this time it's not related to Alexa's eavesdropping. No, it's the humble Ring doorbell camera causing upset, in the UK at least. A court ruling (opens in new tab) has fined a Ring user £100,000 (around $137,300 / AU$184,872) for illegally surveilling his neighbor's property with CCTV cameras including Ring doorbells which overlooked his neighbor's house and garden. The accused claimed this camera coverage was not malicious and the cameras were only installed for the purposes of crime prevention.
What's perhaps most surprising about this court ruling - apart from the sheer size of the fine imposed on one individual - is that it's happened in the UK. According to (opens in new tab)Comparitech (opens in new tab), London is the third most surveilled city in the world with approximately 73.31 CCTV cameras per 1000 people living in the capital - only two cities in China can top that figure.
Consequently, you could be forgiven for thinking Brits had become used to such widespread Big Brother surveillance, and objecting to it wouldn't necessarily result in tough penalties for those using home CCTV cameras. But evidently not.
The full 49-page court judgement (opens in new tab) dives into more detail about the case, but I'm here to consider the wider issues and questions that arise from it. For starters, home surveillance - or CCTV (closed-circuit television) - is nothing new, so why the sudden uproar with this Ring doorbell camera court case?
The key difference here appears to largely be due to the recording not just of video, but also audio, from up to 40 feet away - a feature many conventional home CCTV set-ups don't come with as standard, or would require additional microphones to enable. Given the limited use of audio capture in such crime prevention, versus the potentially huge breaches of personal privacy for an unsuspecting neighbor being eavesdropped on, it becomes more understandable why the judge in this case ruled against the Ring user.(opens in new tab)
Amazon has since made it possible to disable Ring's audio recording feature, but the potential for a doorbell camera to visually overlook neighbouring property remains. Whereas more traditional CCTV cameras tend to be located high up and directed downward to record a pathway or porch, therefore minimising the peripheral coverage of neighbouring property, a doorbell camera's perpendicular view of its surroundings makes it much more likely that neighbouring properties will be covered by its field of view.(opens in new tab)
Even so, it's important to remember that doorbell cameras have an extremely wide field of view, which in turn severely limits their telephoto range, meaning any neighbouring property is highly unlikely to be recorded in significant detail. Amazon has also added the option in Ring to blur out areas of the camera's field of view which could overlook a neighbour's property.
That's good news for Ring users concerned about being the unwitting recipient of a potential law suit. However, when it comes to video coverage of a neighbor's property, need this necessarily even be a bad thing? Sure, nobody wants a CCTV camera directed right at their bedroom window, but having the exterior of your property at least partially covered by a video doorbell - or indeed any other form of CCTV camera - could in fact be advantageous from a security perspective, as it can potentially prevent crime and at no financial cost to you.(opens in new tab)
In the end, as with so many things, if you're thinking about installing a doorbell camera or CCTV system, use common sense. Mounting an audio-recording security camera so it directly overlooks a neighbor's back garden could easily cause tension. Whereas installing a doorbell camera next to your front door where it'll only record the brief activities of those passing by is much less likely to offend.
And let's not forget doorbell cameras can also be a great source of entertainment, as well as catching porch pirates in the act! A quick YouTube search (opens in new tab) can reveal hours of weird, wonderful and hilarious things captured by doorbell cameras - from passing meteors (opens in new tab) to amazing animal antics (opens in new tab).