Cameras Aren’t the Future of Home Security, Our Communities Are.

Today, we have cameras in our doorbells and living rooms, but neglect one of the most effective security measures at our disposal.
Tech & Security
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October 28, 2019
min read
Cameras Aren’t the Future of Home Security, Our Communities Are.

Today, we have cameras in our doorbells and living rooms, but neglect one of the most effective security measures at our disposal.

The modern-day ubiquity of CCTV in public spaces has woven surveillance deeply into the fabric of our day-to-day lives. For those of us living in London, reports have suggested that most of us will be captured on some form of CCTV upwards of 300 times per day. Previously confined to the public sphere, this surveillance is now moving into the most private of places, our homes. Cameras are quickly becoming a firm fixture amongst home security systems, so much so that systems without cameras are on course to become the exception rather than the norm in home security. Though well concealed by promises of a safer home, the underlying message behind home security cameras is that safety comes at the cost of personal privacy.

Our willingness to accept this flawed logic reflects a reality we have already internalised through the inherent insecurity of our online presence. We are aware of our own ignorance regarding how companies utilise our personal data, but we have accepted this as the cost of doing business in an increasingly digital world. We have collectively changed our definition of privacy, and are now willing to accept invasive solutions so long as they provide a cost-effective, quick fix to whatever our particular problem may be. Our desire for convenience effectively silences any reservations we may have.

For many, wireless security cameras represent the cheapest and most straightforward option for securing the home, and for some, the appeal may end here. The lower cost of camera-equipped systems has undoubtedly contributed to their prevalence, but our willingness to welcome this technology into our homes, speaks to a lack of understanding of what we may be giving up in the process. Privacy may lack a monetary value, but we will realise its true cost as we begin to have less and less of it.

Historically speaking, we are living in the safest age yet, and yet we seemed more consumed by fear than ever before. Crime rates continue to fall across most of the world’s major cities, but the perception of our environments is increasingly categorized by unease and a degree of paranoia. The popularity of home surveillance is a manifestation of the same mentality that gave us the stranger danger mentality of the 90s: no one is to be trusted, and the only way to ensure your own safety is to constantly watch your back. The product of our suspicion towards others is as Guardian tech columnist, Tim Lott eloquently described,

We become isolated, fearful atoms, watching for every other isolated, fearful atom to take advantage of us.

Our anxiety and general feelings of distrust have fostered a greater dependance upon technology which we increasingly view as objective and reliable, where other human beings have the potential to be volatile, illogical, and subject to errors. Our faith in one another is quickly deteriorating, and we are increasingly turning to tech to fulfil the roles that were once occupied by those around us. Tech feels safe, infallible even, and reliable in a way that others are not. Better yet, tech rarely asks for anything other than our privacy in return.

Feeding Paranoia

Cameras will do little to alleviate this fear, and in many cases may only feed the existing feelings of paranoia. Aside from encouraging compulsive monitoring, a security camera provides users with a massive amount of data regarding the goings-on inside their homes. Now users are given notification of the small, everyday events that have always gone on but would normally go unnoticed. Without the expertise or experience to understand the information being presented to them, users are forced to differentiate between potential threats and the innocuous movements of everyday life on their own. The security industry is providing us with cameras but offering little guidance in separating peripheral noise from legitimate danger.

Research suggests that we are far more likely to interpret images captured on camera as potentially threatening, than if we were physically present in the scene displayed on our screen. Cameras can only observe or document a specific area, and in doing so they remove the context that would normally inform our assessment of a situation. In this way, your neighbour walking their dog, a jogger passing by, or the postman delivering a package can be interpreted as a threat when these images are disconnected from the context of their broader environment.

The New Town

Artist Andrew Hammerand witnessed the transformative quality of images captured by CCTV when he gained access to a small midwestern town’s CCTV system via a single insecure network camera. The camera was originally mounted atop a local cellphone tower to provide the community’s developer documentation of construction progress, however, unbeknownst to him the camera’s feed and controls were also available to anyone with the right URL. Over the course of a year and a half, Hammerand used his access to capture and observe the banal moments of everyday life in a small town.

Still from The New Town by Andrew Hammerand
From “The New Town”, Andrew Hammerand

The majority of the images captured during the eighteen months were both innocuous and trivial, representative of the same comings and goings that characterise the daily life of nearly any town; residents walking their children to school, jogging down the block, and standing in their driveways chatting with one another. However, he also found that through the long, and usually grainy lens of a security camera some of these innocent images took on a subtly ominous air. Hammerand specifically notes a particular series of images which capture a builder with hammer in hand, working on the facade of a local home. When the images were viewed alone, and the context of the front porch repairs removed, the builder takes on the form of a man poised to commit a crime. He explains this phenomenon as a product of paranoia, stating in regards to misinterpretation,

If you are watching something, you almost expect something to happen. But in reality nothing happened.

Our Vision for Communal Security

For all the impressive features and promises to both simplify and secure our lives, most security systems on the market today neglect one of the most essential and basic measures of home security: our neighbours, community, friends, and family. Before home alarms and security cameras, the communities surrounding our homes were our only option for home monitoring. Today we have cameras in our doorbells and living rooms, but neglect one of the most effective security measures at our disposal.

Knowledge is powerful, but in regards to the security of your home, knowledge alone is of little value without subsequent action. So while a home security camera may grant some degree of information, it’s primary function is still limited to observation alone. The likelihood of witnessing an event on camera, and reaching your home in time to intervene is next to none, but when your home is connected to the people around it, the opportunity for intervention increases greatly.

Rather than attempting to replace community with technology, our system offers an opportunity for integration between the two. By incorporating friends, family, and neighbours into our security system’s smart neighbourhood watch, the system is able to connect your home with the people who can help when it matters most.

Whether its inviting family to share in digitally monitoring the home or collaborating with neighbours to build a safer community, our system helps make securing your home a group effort. In the event that you are unable to respond to a critical notification, such as an alarm sounding, an usually loud noise, or a sharp temperature change, your family circle will be notified and connected with each other via our app. If the family group is unable to respond, the friends circle will then be notified and similarly connected with one another to help facilitate a quick plan of action. Our system also allows for customisable access within the community watch feature, so you can tailor the security features available to members of your network to suit your individual needs.

Technology at its best serves not as a replacement for human connection, but exists alongside it, as a complement to the inimitable nature of the relationships we forge with those around us. Community enhances everything we do, and our approach to home security is defined by the recognition that no device or camera, however advanced or intelligent it may be, can replicate the unique form of security afforded by a trusted network.