How Secure is your Security Camera?

How Secure is your Security Camera?
By Shujing Dong | February 19, 2021

Smart home security cameras have become must-to-have for most households in recent years. They can live stream what is going on in or around the home and record videos anytime. We feel safer and protected with home security cameras, however, do we know how secure they are? According to a recent tech news article “Yes, your security camera could be hacked: Here’s how to stop spying eyes”, home security cameras can be easily hacked like that in the ADT data breach story. This article would like to dive into the data security of smart security cameras by looking at the Privacy Policy of three major security camera service providers: RingNest, and Wyze.

What personal data do they collect?

All three providers collect account information (including gender/age), device information, location info and user interaction with the service, as well as video/audio recording and social media info like reviews on third party websites. But they do not give justification on why gender and age is needed for monitoring and protecting the home. With location and device info, it’s possible to illegally track users by targeted aggregation. In addition, Nest collects facial recognition data with familiar face alerts feature, and does not state if Nest provides opt-out options of sharing facial data to face alerts feature users.

How are these data used, shared and stored?

All providers use the collected data to improve their devices and services, personalize user experience and for promotional or marketing purposes. However, for online tracking, Ring says “Our websites are not designed to respond to “Do Not Track” signals received from browsers”, meaning it tracks users’ online activity at its will. The other two providers completely omit their responses to “Do Not Track” signals.

They all share data with vendors, service providers, technicians, as well as affiliates and subsidiaries. However, if their affiliates or subsidiaries use the data for different business purposes, it will pose privacy risks to the users. They also do not articulate what the data processing looks like and what preventive measures are taken for data breath or illegal access from employees or vendors .

As for data retention, Nest stores user data until the user requests deletion; Ring stores user recordings with “Ring Protected Plan” and Neighborhoods Recordings; whereas, Wyze only stores data to the SD card in the camera, for any recordings user voluntarily submitted to Wyze, it will not store them longer than 3 years.

What data security mechanisms do they have?

Ring only vaguely states “We maintain administrative, technical and physical safeguards designed to protect personal information”, without specifying what measures or tech they use for data security. However, Ring is known to have fired four employees who have abused internal access to customer video feed. Nest is the only one among the three that specifically points out they use data encryption during transmission. While both Wyze and Nest have international data transfer, Wyze does not mention how it protects data security across different jurisdictions, whereas Nest specifies that it adheres to EU-US “Privacy Shield” policy.

What security camera providers can do more?

Privacy policy shows how much the providers care about them. To increase transparency and build user’s trust on the service, security camera providers should do more to protect data security and list specific measures in their privacy policies. For example, they can specify data retention length as what Wyze does. They can also implement data encryption technology during transmission and articulate it in privacy policy. In addition, they can place authorization processes to only allow authorized employees for data access. Lastly, they can give users more opt-out options to control what data users share.

What home security camera users can do?

We users would need to intentionally protect our own privacy as well. Firstly, be aware of our rights and make choices based on our specific use cases. According to FTC and CalOPPA, we have rights to access our own data and request deletion. For example, we can periodically request security camera service providers to delete our video/audio recordings on their end. We can also try not link our account to social media to prevent our social network data being collected. Thirdly, we can anonymize our account information such as demographic information and device names. We can also set unique passwords for the security devices and change them periodically. If possible, use stand alone cameras that do not transfer data to cloud servers in private rooms such as bedrooms.