Many pet owners wonder what their furry friends are up to when they are not home, or many just miss their cute little faces. This is why dog and pet cameras – remotely accessible webcams designed to monitor, and sometimes interact with pets – are becoming more and more popular.
The pet accessory business is a booming one, predicted to reach $46 billion by 2026, with pet cams as a growing part of that market.
Like with most modern technology, pet cameras come with their own privacy and security risks. This technology might let users zoom in on cute things like their cats napping on their bed, but it also opens up a world of concerning possibilities. In other words, it comes with a set of tradeoffs, added security in exchange for the potential of reduced privacy.
“These devices have a lot of scary implications,” explained Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Think about what video and audio that device would capture in a day, and think about what is the worst-case scenario if somebody else got their hands on it,” he said.
It does not take an expert to understand these potential negative consequences, because unfortunately there are a lot of real-world examples.
As reported by Mashable, in January of 2021, a former ADT employee pleaded guilty to watching customers have sex through their home security cameras. He was able to do this for years, without being caught.
Amazon, which owns Ring, in 2020, was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging Ring failed to take basic security precautions. That followed a series of hacks wherein creeps gained access to families’ Ring cameras, that same year the company admitted its employees had tried to watch customers’ video feeds.
Makers of pet cameras, like Ring, do invest in privacy and security to different degrees. But take for example Ring which has financial resources to invest in security that put the others to shame and still it wasn’t enough to avoid a lawsuit.
To be clear, that these companies are thinking about customer security and privacy is a good thing and should be celebrated. It does not, however, mean there’s no cause for concern.
Apart from actual employees or hackers gaining access to the live video feed of your house, there is the threat of the data collected by the manufacturers themselves. Even if employees aren’t improperly accessing video feeds, metadata is incredibly revealing and powerful, stuff.
“You wouldn’t normally check up on your pet through a camera if you were in the house,” observed Guariglia, in an interview with Mashable, “So, just by knowing when you’re logging in and when you’re checking in, one could theoretically figure out when you’re home and when you’re not home.”
“We collect any audio, video, or pictures you create, upload, save, or share through our Services” it reads in part. “We may also collect video and audit information of individuals when they pass in front of the camera or speak when the Furbo Dog Camera is on.” In addition, they collect geolocation data and social media info.
It’s always important to read the terms of service despite how painful it is,” advised Guariglia. “One of the worst-case scenarios in my mind is you saying in front of your dog feeder and dog camera, ‘Oh we really have to book that flight to Chicago,’ and suddenly you’re seeing targeted ads for a flight to Chicago.”
Before deciding to purchase a pet camera, be informed and consider if keeping constant tabs on your pet is worth the cost of your privacy.