My job as Smart Home editor here at Digital Trends requires me to embrace technology in all forms. And for the most part, technology has enriched my life. Voice assistant speakers? Love ‘em! (Alexa, make fart noises.) Smart lights? Ambient mood is my best friend. Video doorbells? Later, porch pirates.
Ever since I started at this gig, I’ve been riding the wave of smart home tech, and loving every minute of how automation has made life simpler. I’ve scoffed at those who warn that voice assistant speakers are contributing to the demise of our society. Hacked security camera reports? D’oh! Change your password.
But this week, a couple of product announcements made even the smart home tech lover in me take pause. On Tuesday, Panasonic introduced a floor lamp called the HomeHawk Floor. The lamp is currently on Indiegogo and comes in three different sizes up to six feet. So what, you say. It’s a lamp. What’s the big deal?
Think about where these things could be placed, spying on us without our knowledge
Glad you asked. Here’s the kicker: It has a tiny, hidden home security camera on the stem. The lamp/camera (lampcam? lamera? camlamp?) has some decent camera tech built in, too: A 140-degree wide-angle lens, HD recordings, motion sensor technology, and the ability to view live footage.
In other words, when I’m staying in that Airbnb, all I’ll see is an innocent floor lamp, while the owners of the place will see me doing God knows what in their living room (Ok, I admit, maybe it’s time to clean up my act a little bit. But still.)
Freaking out yet? I am. Think about where these things could be placed, spying on us without us knowing it: Doctor’s offices, rental houses, public bathrooms, the living rooms or bedrooms of our significant others, hotel rooms. You get the idea. If home surveillance technology is making its way into a benign floor lamp, what’s next? A spying couch?
Red Bull or Gatorade?
I know this isn’t the first security cam that’s been embedded into a product — and it most certainly won’t be the last. There are spying devices and cameras out there as small as a pin that can be placed anywhere (like on toilet seats — gross). But to me, this one is disturbing because it’s a new type of spying device, made from a reputable tech company, embedded into a harmless floor lamp. And I fear that it’s just the beginning of a world that will soon be blanketed in surveillance technology, rendering our private lives public (and I mean REALLY public, not just kinda public, like it is now), whether we like it or not.
My fears were further compounded this week by a report that talked about Walgreens’ plans to roll out smart beverage fridges that record everything you do while standing in front of them. The idea is that the smart coolers scan a user’s face while they contemplate that Red Bull or Frost Arctic Blitz Thirst Quencher Gatorade. The cameras record several data points, including age and gender, and use it to figure out how to – you guessed it – do a better job of selling you things. They’re already testing them in Chicago, with more coming to New York and San Francisco.
Maybe this isn’t as big of a deal as the HomeHawk catching you dancing in your underwear at a hotel, but it does feel invasive nonetheless – much more so than a simple surveillance camera mounted in the corner of the store to record robberies.
I always feel like, somebody’s watching me
With all that recorded video floating in the cloud, on a microSD card, in corporate advertising offices, or God forbid some corner on the Dark Web, I guarantee you misuse and exploitation is already occurring. Most recently, Ring, maker of video doorbells and home security cameras, was accused of giving employees unfiltered access to customer’s video recordings and live feeds, something the company denied.
Are we headed down a slope too slippery from which to climb back up?
This year at CES, Ring introduced its Door View Cam, a camera that replaces your peephole. It’s designed for apartment dwellers who might not have the ability to wire or drill a video doorbell onto their door frames due to lease restrictions.
Digital Trends gave the Ring product our Home Security award for providing home security options to renters. But recently, I’ve been thinking about how the neighbor across the hall from the peephole camera owner in an apartment building might feel about having a camera pointing directly at their door. It’s true that when the camera comes to market, it’ll offer blackout options, meaning that you can block out the recording of your neighbor’s door entirely. But how will that neighbor know if their door is being blacked out? What if the camera owner is not-so-secretly recording the number of times the neighbor has takeout delivered, or whether she takes the garbage out in her pajamas?
I feel like video doorbells and home security cameras on front porches are great for protection of the home. But devices like the Door View Cam might open a new can of ethical worms over where the line between protecting one’s self and violating the privacy rights of others is drawn. By letting all this surveillance technology creep into our lives, are we headed down a privacy slope too slippery from which to climb back up?
With the HomeHawk Floor, I think we’re headed down a dangerous path. From now on, I’ll be proceeding into public spaces with caution. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t dance around in my underwear in hotel rooms while drinking a Frost Arctic Blitz Thirst Quencher Gatorade. I gave up that behavior long ago — I’m older and more dignified now. And terrified of being recorded.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.