We're safe enough that we don't need doorbell security cameras

Nest Hello AC 2
Nest Hello AC 2 (Image credit: Android Central)

My partner wanted to buy a video camera doorbell sometime around Thanksgiving. We live in … well, I'm not going to tell you where we live, because I talked her out of it, so we do not have a video camera guarding our stoop. There is something about video doorbells that has always put me off.

It isn't just the surveillance state thing. I mean, it totally IS the surveillance state thing, but not exactly. Gizmodo covered this issue in some depth recently. I just didn't think we needed that level of home security, and I don't really want to live in a neighborhood where that level of security is the norm.

When I first heard Ring founder Jamie Siminoff with his ubiquitous radio commercials, I was enticed by the idea of a video doorbell for all the nicest reasons. I could spot cute animals like armadillos and badgers wandering across the yard at night! I imagined squirrels in various poses somehow perfectly framed for my doorbell. I saw myself in repose in a tub full of bubbles, flicking lazily at my smartphone and casually telling the salesman at the door to go away, I don't need any.

Maybe I would catch a package thief.

Maybe I would catch a package thief! Except I've never had a package stolen. I hear it happens all the time. I've read studies that say large portions of the suburban homeowning population have lost packages to pirates. Piracy! On our lawns! One study by Amazon-owned Ring said one in five people have lost a package. Another study by Comcast, the internet and home security camera provider, says that number is as high as one in three people!

Ring Video Doorbell

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

If Amazon could install Ring cameras everywhere, it could stamp out package theft much faster, but is that good for consumers or just Amazon? The average lost package costs $140, according to Ring. The fanciest Ring doorbell costs $100 more than that, plus you automatically join Ring's Neighbor police spying network. Subscription-based video security could easily cost you more than $140 in a year of service. Package theft is not such a horrible or violent crime that we should spend a ton of money and give up our privacy to local authorities.

Crime is not as bad as it used to be. According to the Pew Research Center, not only is property crime like package theft down significantly over the past 25 years, but violent crime has also seen a substantial decline. Property crimes are down 54%, according to FBI tracking. The Feds also say violent crime is similarly down 51%. Other trackers show even steeper declines.

Crime is not as bad as it used to be.

Not surprisingly, Pew also finds that most Americans believe that crime is getting worse, when things are actually much better. There is plenty of blame to go around for stoking that fear, but I'm not blaming video doorbells. I think video doorbells are a symptom of the fear, not a cause.

Ring Video Doorbell

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Instead, we should recalibrate our safety concerns and ask whether we need the video surveillance in the first place. Instead of a camera, invest in a smart door lock (opens in new tab) that is convenient and useful. Try a smarter irrigation system (opens in new tab) or a smart garage door (opens in new tab) that knows when you're home. Get a camera because you want to watch your pets, not because you're afraid of who's coming to the front door.

We should enjoy the convenience of a smart and connected home, and inevitably there will be use for video cameras within and without. When we open our homes to these watching eyes, let's keep those eyes clear and not clouded by fear.

Nest Hello review: The smartest doorbell

31 Comments
  • Interestingly there's something of a cultural divide here to an extent. Here in the UK (the most surveilled nation in the world), the primary marketing point on ring doorbells has been convenience rather than security. Adverts mainly show people asking delivery drivers to leave packages in the back garden or telling meter readers they'll have to come back later. The US definitely seems more fear oriented in general... From news reporting to advertising to medicine. Film at 11. As an aside, my mum was telling me a couple of days ago that one of her neighbours ring doorbell had captured one of the local scumbag teens trying to steal... Her ring doorbell! Not only a thief but an idiot too! And my own once captured some workmen "borrowing"my doormat to prop something open. The footage led to the doormat being recovered, but charges were not pressed.
  • I have a peep hole in my door. When, and it is a when, I get a doorbell camera, it will just be an extension of that.
  • Seeing who's at the door without being at the door is the future I've been waiting for! Haha. I think it's more of a convenience thing than security.
  • Pick the right neighborhood and forget about fear.
  • Except for the people who have cars that can just drive into that neighborhood. There is no perfect world, but if adding a video doorbell brings convenience to your life or comfort to being home alone, then people should have one.
  • If your neighborhood isn't gated, guarded, and walled/fenced, you're not in the right neighborhood. If you have no invitation to be in my 'hood, there's a u-turn lane for you.
  • ..uh. wow. just. wow.
  • lol, where you live? Challenge accepted.
  • If your neighborhood is gated, guarded, and walled/fenced - you're definitely in the wrong neighborhood. You don't need those things in a safe place.
  • I used to live in a low crime area. I used to say that people from worse (lower class) neighborhoods went through it to steal from better neighborhoods.
  • I have a ring video doorbell. I didn't get it to catch package thieves. It was more as a means of knowing when someone had delivered a package (and where they'd left it).
  • My friend has made a great living installing and providing service to those who say, "We live in a great safe neighborhood. We don't need a security system or a cameras.". I live in a very affluent neighborhood in Ohio and my neighbors and I have used our cameras to catch not only 2 package thieves in the last 2 years but a ring of individuals who were breaking into houses, garages and cars. Remember, thieves will travel to nice neighborhoods to rob a home or steal a package. Why would they go to a poorer neighborhood?
  • That is great and it shows that have cameras like the Ring doorbell can help. These people, err, I mean sheeple are in their little bubbles believing "That won't happen here or to me" . All I have to say is it only takes ONE time and your precious bubbled life if popped and you don't know what to do. If they have a Ring doorbell or a Ring motion sensored flood lights they may be catching video of the dirt bag pos's that broke into their neighbors house. They are good to have in this time and age. Mayberry was great when Andy Griffith was around, but there are far and few between of places that could be considered Mayberry due to pos's moving around and taking advantage of people.
  • I work in the public safety media sector so i hear whats going on then see it on the news and i see many times how the media likes to fan the flames and often time spin things to make them seem worse. I believe they sensationalize it. Heck just watch ABC news and count how many times they say "breaking news" You can make a drinking game out of it.
  • I have friends in DC and the big thing down there is people stealing these things. I'd rather have a camera mounted out of the way where it can't easily be stolen.
  • Love my Nest Hello. It’s convenient and fun technology. I think sometimes too much can be read into all this.
  • 1. You don't have to join a spy network to own a doorbell camera. 2. Most people behave more cautiously if they feel they're being watched.
  • So the lead photo is a Google cam, but you spend the article harping on the surveillance state of the Ring community? I didn't have to join any group or give the police my videos to have a Nest Hello. Opposite your article, I have already installed a ton of smart stuff in my house (deadbolt, garage door, switches, lights, remotes, etc) and the camera was only the latest thing. And it was only after we had a couple packages stolen, multiple thefts in our neighborhood, and issues with packages not getting delivered when the shipping companies said they were. We have a good community with good neighbors that talk and help each other out. But those good neighbors are unfortunately outnumbered and overshadowed by shitbags who break into cars, steal packages, destroy property for no reason, drive recklessly, and leave trash all over the place. This is why I bought the camera, not as much to protect my house, but to protect and help out my community. So while I won't give unrestricted access of my camera footage to the police, I'd be glad to turn over video when I personally deem it necessary to help them out for the benefit of my neighborhood.
  • Outnumbered? That doesn't sound like a good community.
  • Maybe I don't understand the intent of these things. In the commercials it shows someone picking up a package then the home owner catches them and the would be thief puts the package down and hurries off. The question I have is wouldn't the thief just go ahead and take the package anyway? Would this actually deter a criminal if they had been caught in the act? Or is it the shock of being caught red handed makes them just run off and leave without stealing what they came for? I know it can be used to help possibly identify a thief after they've stolen something.
  • I feel like this article is a dangerous take.
  • I agree. It's a reckless piece that minimizes the severity of one of the most selfish and shameful crimes which is unfortunately common but often ignored. Theft - of any magnitude - is a character flaw exposing a terrible lack of respect for people and I don't think this is something society should tolerate. We've become such a tolerant society, sometimes I think to a fault, and perspectives like this are indeed dangerous. Maybe the author didn't mean to imply theft was harmless but that's how it comes across.
  • I would call it an ignorant take. The cameras are useful for things other than porch pirates, like say for example knowing when your package is delivered because the FedEx guy doesn't ring the bell. But then to recommend a smart lock! Sure if you want your front door not to lock when you think it has, or to randomly unlock, or to somehow be hacked. No thank you. Not now, not ever, never! And hey, this is AndroidCentral. They should stick to issues involving Android.
  • This article starts out bad and gets worse. The worse part is recommending a smart lock and a garage door that knows when you're home. Sure, if you don't care about your security, those are great uses for home automation. /sarc
  • Agreed, it just kept going down hill worth every paragraph. Very very bad take here!
  • Am I the only one who lives near an Amazon Locker? Walk in, enter or scan code, get package, leave. It takes 30 seconds, tops. Alternatively, there is an Amazon Hub Locker nearby as well, most items are same- or 1-day delivery if I use that option.
  • Don't have such a thing near me. And sure, grabbing your package takes 30 seconds, but you still have to go there to get it, which adds more time. I have two small kids which I have every evening, and taking them anywhere that I have to get out of the car is an ordeal. They're too young to leave on their own, and taking them anywhere is tough, because the little one will run if I let go of her hand. In short, I'd much rather have my stuff delivered to my house. And none of the below is directed at you in particular, I just don't feel like posting multiple times, lol. I have a Nest doorbell, and like it. I actually have had a package stolen. Turned out to be my POS upstairs tenant, as I discovered the package in her apartment after I threw her out for a multitude of other reasons. I live in a decent neighborhood (now that she's gone, lol), but I'm right on a main road, and my porch can be seen from the street. And it doesn't matter where you live, these things can happen. I actually have several home automation things, which I started to implement before the video doorbell. It's not for everybody, but I like it. I think the author isn't really considering other people's situations. Good for him, he lives in a utopia, how about us clods? I don't really see a point to his article, other than to belittle the opinion of people who need or want this piece of tech. It would be like me saying that if he doesn't buy one, he's an idiot. And how are people getting away with stealing these? Even if they reset them, if the original owner reports it stolen to either Google or Amazon, shouldn't the be able to track it down? The internal serial number shouldn't change, and should be able to be located once connected to a new network.
  • Cameras - yes. I have four already. But, I'm not about to subscribe to my doorbell! I'll just add another camera to the network I already have.
  • I agree with the sentiment that you shouldn't buy a doorbell camera (or any camera for that matter) to feel "safer". But the truth is that a doorbell camera is actually pretty convenient. I don't have to go "too far out on a limb" to say that the average person is going to find a doorbell camera much more convenient than a smart lock too. That recommendation is totally off base IMHO. Plus the article doesn't speak to the 800lb gorilla which is the whole idea of internet security. All of these IOT devices need special handling to ensure they are actually safe. Otherwise you are handing your entire network over to hackers. Doorbell camera, smart lock, smart plug, lights, switches, etc, etc, etc all need to be handled much differently than the average person realizes.
  • I actually have a smart lock to allow my ex wife access to my house, as needed. My son is T1 diabetic, and there are times when she needs access to my place to get supplies. Shouldn't need to happen, but that's another issue, lol. If she gets there to drop off the kids before I make it home, she can get them inside and settled, instead of sitting in the car. I can avoid giving her a key, and if she ticks me off, I can yank access, instead of changing locks. Between the lock and camera, I know she isn't randomly going into my place.
  • I put in several security cameras when I became a landlord. It's been my experience that most tenant/landlord relationships end poorly. When money is involved, people don't always behave well. That being said, I've always lived in small towns where crime isn't bad. Before I had security cameras, I actually had a statue of an Angel stolen, and some kids pulled that "light fire to the bag of poop" trick. That seems harmless, but the bag of poop was lit on fire on my deck - which was made of wood. It could have easily started the whole thing on fire, and I think a camera would have stopped someone from taking my Angel.
    Since I've had my cameras, I haven't really seen much of anything on them. However, a few years ago my house was actually cased by people who were actually caught during a home invasion in a different town a few weeks later. I was actually home (and armed) at the time they came to my house, and I forwarded the video to the police. However, it's not clear to me that the cameras were a deterrent then. In fact, the cameras may have made these people think there were valuables in the house and that may be why they cased me.
    But for the most part, I actually use my cameras to keep an eye on my dog when she's outside, to look for cool animals that may have wandered into my yard, and to watch my driveway for the pizza guy.
    However, I do also use Google WiFi - which allows me to "pause" anything on the network. That prevents the cameras from going to the internet, but still allows them to communicate inside my network. I save the files to an FTP server running on a tiny computer on my network - and that computer uploads the files to the internet for me to view. I do worry a bit about their security, because they're old and they're foscam. They have released several updated firmwares for one of the models I have, but the other hasn't been updated in years. I do reboot them and change their passwords fairly often, and I use lastpass to make up long random passwords for them. Of course, that does almost nothing if the firmware itself is crap.