Video doorbells: Are they worth your privacy?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Video doorbells. They’re the new eyes watching over your home, and they have grown in popularity. But does it come at the expense of your privacy?

An alert on your cell phone goes off, and miles away back at your home you can watch who’s standing on your doorstep. A camera situated inside this tiny hole captures it all and transmits it to you right away.

Jonathan Turner knew what I looked like before he answered the door.

“I just thought I wanted some extra security, and I just decided to go and look at a couple of doorbell cameras and regular cameras around the house.”

Turner, who’s active in his neighborhood watch, says the surveillance at his home recently paid off.

“The past three days someone came by and went into my neighbors’ garage and stole something, and my cameras caught it.”

These extra eyes can catch the bad guys in the act, but you could be caught on camera far more often than a criminal. “You have to understand the person that’s going to be the most recorded with these devices is yourself and your family,” Turner said.

Dr. Denise Ferebee heads the Lemoyne Owen College Center for Cyber Defense. She says you give up some of your privacy when you use video surveillance at your home.

“You’re going to be recorded when you leave home, when you come back home your and your kids are going to be recorded.”

Cyber security experts say you should know who’s watching your surveillance footage besides you and what’s being done with it.

Some companies monitor your doorbell for a fee. They’ re watching the comings and goings, including that of your family.

Through its neighborhood app, Ring invites users to upload video from their cameras to keep track of suspicious behavior near them, and they often share them with police.

Ferebee says not everyone watching has good intentions.

“You also put your information out there too. They’re saying that I was at work. If someone knows who this particular handle person is, knowing that they’re at work at 1:35 p.m. and also the day when it was posted, that gives some information as to their own privacy.”

The other concern is what’s done with the video being monitored and or recorded. In 2019, The Washington Post uncovered that Amazon, which owns Ring Doorbell, is developing new technology using videos it collects to create a suspicious person database.

Turner says the company he uses says it uses video for research, but he doesn’t pay the monitoring fee, so they only see what he uploads. He only uploads video when he wants to put neighbors on alert.

There`s also some legal problems that can arise from the doorbells. You can’t aim your doorbell camera, or any other camera, solely at your neighbors house. The focal point needs to be on your property. And uploading video of so called “suspicious people” could be considered profiling in some cases, and could lead to a civil lawsuit.

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