Have doorbell cameras turned us into "a nation of voyeurs?"

Do you have one of those home doorbell camera security systems installed at your place? I’m very much into the idea and have been threatening to get one for a while now. (Unsure about how much of a hassle the installation would be.) They’ve been massively growing in popularity and a number of my neighbors have them already. But is there a downside to that sort of home surveillance ability? That’s the question being asked by Drew Harwell at the Washington Post this week. The premise is that people can develop an addiction to monitoring everything that goes on, turning us into “a nation of voyeurs.”

But the allure of monitoring people silently from afar has also proved more tempting than many expected. Customers who bought the cameras in hopes of not becoming victims joke that instead they’ve become voyeurs.

The Washington Post surveyed more than 50 owners of in-home and outdoor camera systems across the United States about how the recording devices had reshaped their daily lives. Most of those who responded to online solicitations about their camera use said they had bought the cameras to check on package deliveries and their pets, and many talked glowingly about what they got in return: security, entertainment, peace of mind. Some said they worried about hackers, snoops or spies.

But in the unscientific survey, most people also replied that they were fine with intimate new levels of surveillance — as long as they were the ones who got to watch.

While I won’t immediately poo-poo this theory, there’s a lot in that article that appears to be overblown or at least incorrectly described. To start with, while the vast majority of Ring and Nest cameras are installed at people’s front doors looking outward, there are some people quoted in this investigation who put them inside their homes to act as baby monitors or security systems to catch the image of possible intruders. And some of those folks confess to using them to keep an eye on the babysitter, the maid or even their own children without their knowing they are being recorded.

I suppose that might qualify as voyeurism in a general sort of way. But if you’re spending your time engaging in “voyeurism” by watching out from your front door, that’s also just known as “watching people walk by your house.” Nobody out in the public square has any expectation of privacy and that doesn’t change because it’s a camera looking at you instead of a pair of human eyes.

Other people the WaPo spoke to expressed concerns that Ring and Nest owners were sharing videos with the police. Hello? Are you kidding me? If the police are looking for videos from your location at a particular time or date, it’s because a crime took place near your home. You bet I will be signing up and volunteering to share video with the cops. Hell, if I see something sufficiently suspicious like porch pirates or any other common crimes, I’ll be sending the video to the cops before they even ask.

The other legitimate concern raised in the article is that of hackers breaking into your system. But both companies have recently developed upgrades to help with that. And besides, the majority of people who have a system like this hacked either didn’t bother setting a password or left it as the default password it came with. We have to be willing to put in at least a smidgen of effort to help protect our own systems, folks.

By the time I finished talking to a few people who have these while preparing this article, I’d pretty much already made up my mind. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a Ring system and install it by this weekend. If I suddenly find myself turning into a voyeur by the end of the month, I’ll post an update.