September 25, 2020updated 10 Nov 2020 12:40pm

Amazon’s Always Home Cam could be a “magnet for privacy concerns”

By Ellen Daniel

Amazon has unveiled the latest in its suite of smart home security devices: the Always Home Cam security drone.

Launched at the company’s hardware showcase, the Always Home Cam was described by Amazon-owned smart home company Ring as “a completely new type of device”.

According to a blog post from the company, the product was developed to “give users the flexibility of every viewpoint they want around the home” without the need to buy additional security cameras.

The autonomous indoor security camera rests in a base while not flying, and can fly along predetermined routes set by the user, meaning different areas of the home can be checked, with the live footage streamed via the Ring app.

Drone security

The $249 product, due to launch in the US later this year, can be integrated with Ring Alarm, Amazon’s home security system. If the Ring Alarm is triggered while the homeowner is away, the Always Home Cam drone will automatically fly along a preset path.

Regarding privacy, the company said that the camera is physically blocked while docked, and only starts recording while flying. It also cannot be manually controlled, only flying along pre-set routes. The device is also designed to make a noise while flying so it is clear when it is in motion.

From a safety perspective, the Always Home Cam is also programmed with obstacle avoidance technology and its lightweight design means it can safely fly through the home.

“Something from a science fiction movie”

However, this has not stopped inevitable privacy concerns from being raised. Campaign group Big Brother Watch described the device as “arguably Amazon’s most chilling surveillance product yet” in a tweet.

Box CEO Aaron Levie also tweeted “If 2020 wasn’t already dystopian enough for you, Amazon just announced an indoor flying drone camera.”

The physical blocking of the camera when the device is inactive may go some way to address this, as well as the news that the Ring App will now have end-to-end encryption later this year. But although nearly 30% of smart homes are equipped with surveillance cameras according to Strategy Analytics, the concept of a security drone may simply be a step too far for some consumers.

Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight predicts that the device may be a “magnet for privacy concerns”:

“The Always Home Cam is an incredibly ambitious device that will seem like something from a science fiction movie for many consumers. I expect it to generate a huge amount of interest from technology enthusiasts who are typically the people who embrace smart home technology first. However, it is also likely to provoke a huge discussion around privacy and the future role of technology in the home.”

“Although the Always Home Cam is likely to be a magnet for privacy concerns, it is arguably a better solution than some of Amazon’s other devices, such as the Echo Show, which have a front facing camera that is always exposed. When docked, the Always Home Cam has its camera concealed in its holder, and it is designed to work when occupants are out of the house.”

He added that Amazon will have to “reassure” customers that the device won’t fly into things or people.

However, considering the advancement of smart home devices, Wood is not surprised Amazon has chosen to go down this route and believes it could pave the way for more similar devices in the home.

“A year ago, when I predicted that we’d eventually see home robotics progressing from the increasingly ubiquitous robot vacuum cleaner to autonomous robot assistants that would move around your house to allow users to check if what was going on if a sensor was triggered or a smoke alarm went off, I assumed it would be several years before such a device would come to fruition,” he said.

“With the introduction of the Always Home Cam, Amazon and Ring have accelerated that vision and over time I expect to see more examples of home assistant robots and drones from numerous consumer electronics companies over the next two years”.

Home security versus the threat of home invasion

Smart devices can also create a new vector for cyber attacks. The security of some Ring devices has been called into question in the past, and according to NordVPN more than 3000 Ring users’ credentials ended up online in 2019 following credential stuffing attacks.

Although this was caused by users reusing credentials that were affected by previous breaches rather than a security issue at the company itself, it may affect customers’ confidence in such products, especially those with access to their homes.

And last year, the revelation that Amazon had partnered with hundreds US law enforcement agencies to allow Ring doorbell owners to provide footage to aid criminal investigations raised additional privacy concerns. According to Wired, Amazon has said that the Always Home Cam will not be included in such parterships.

Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at internet security company ESET believes that the potential benefit to home security should not outweigh the cybersecurity:

“Home security vs the threat of home invasion is a fine line, and users must assess the risks before purchasing these devices. Smart devices are still in their early phases and users need to be mindful of that they are often not set up to protect them well as they may assume.

“It must be assumed that anything connected to the internet comes with a risk of attack, and therefore such gimmicks need to be highly protected right out of the box. Smart device users often appreciate the convenience these gadgets offer but we must remain vigilant of the privacy risks attached and assess if these are offering more security vulnerabilities than they are protecting.”


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