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don’t want to share it with the world, you don’t have to. The crux of this is we are putting the responsibility for what should be recorded and when in the hands of each individual user.”
Secondly, all video from Dropcam devices is encrypted before it reaches Dropcam’s servers, using bank-level security that even the nation’s top spymasters would have a hard time breaking, according to Duffy. That means Dropcam couldn’t comply with a subpoena or a National Security Letter even if it wanted to. “The fact that we store the video in our cloud doesn’t mean we have any right to it, and it doesn’t mean we have any power to hand it out to law enforcement,” Duffy says.
The third protection is a bit more abstract, but perhaps even more reassuring: it’s the fact that Dropcam has a simple business model, built around selling cameras and cloud storage directly to consumers. The company has no incentive to use the data for anything else. “Facebook is also cataloguing your life, but you don’t pay them to do that, so their incentives are quite different,” Duffy says. “They want to use your data to sell things. With Dropcam, you have ultimate control.”
|Wi-Fi Video Monitoring Options for the Home|
|$149 per camera, $9.95 per month for 7-day cloud storage|
|$199.99 per camera, free 7-day storage of “motion clips”|
|$299.99 per camera, Dropbox cloud storage optional|
|$199.99 for 1-camera system, $49.95 per year for 250 MB cloud storage|
|$129.95 per camera, free online storage for up to 25 events per day|
What really scared my colleagues Charles Mann and Dan Farmer back in 2003 wasn’t the spread of video cameras, but the fact that it was getting easier to store and analyze the data they capture. “The computer networks on which monitoring data are stored and manipulated continue to grow faster, cheaper, smarter, and able to store information in greater volume for longer times,” they warned. Myriad small-scale video networks might eventually feed up into large databases accessible to law enforcement agencies or corporations, they worried—and there would be little way for those being surveilled to correct bad data or prevent misinterpretations.
One way to minimize the misuse of surveillance databases, Farmer and Mann suggested, would be to compartmentalize and encrypt the data, so that only authorized users could access it, and only for certain purposes. Writing in the immediate wake of 9/11, however, they saw little chance that such protections would actually be implemented.
But they may have been too pessimistic. Only by imposing such strict controls, arguably, have companies like Dropcam managed to avoid Facebook-style privacy fiascoes while clearing the way for the emergence of a big home video monitoring market. A really big market: Duffy says Dropcam already collects more video data every day than YouTube, and it’s just one of a half-dozen companies selling Wi-Fi video monitoring cameras (see table). Revenue from device sales and subscriptions will probably save the startup from needing venture capital beyond the $18 million it’s already raised, Duffy says.
Given that a username and password are all that’s needed to access your account, a privacy breach involving Dropcam or one of the competing video monitoring companies is entirely conceivable—perhaps inevitable. But maybe such things will matter less and less in the future. Duffy tells a story about Dropcam’s vice president of marketing, whose young son “gets upset if the Dropcam isn’t on. He feels like mommy can see him and talk to him through the Dropcam when she’s away.” Kids who grow up on cam, in other words, may have a totally different set of expectations about privacy, or what it means to be alone.
In addition, once people internalize the knowledge that they’re on camera much of the time, they may simply stop doing or saying things that would be embarrassing or incriminating. You could call this the Eric Schmidt Effect: as the Google chairman said in 2009, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
In a world that honest, we wouldn’t need Wi-Fi video cameras to secure our homes against burglars, but merely to help us keep an eye on things. Duffy tells another story about an apartment owner who watched his dog turn on the oven and start a fire. The man immediately called a neighbor, who went over to extinguish the blaze. “It’s amazing what happens in your home when you’re away,” Duffy says.
Indeed—I guess I should be happy that my dog merely barks.
[Update, 4/23/13: See our companion Xconomy article about Duffy's views on Silicon Valley startup culture and the best strategies for keeping employees happy.]
Here’s a 30-second introductory video from Dropcam.
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