Ten years ago, home security cameras were complicated and expensive. Today, you can buy a camera for as little as $35 and wirelessly keep track of your home and pets. But is it all good?
There are a variety of camera systems available today that you can easily set up yourself. Pet-specific cameras not only track audio and video, they can dispense treats and send you an alert when your dog barks! Non-pet-specific systems have many of the same features — minus the treats — and may serve your needs just as well. These devices can be useful, but you should educate yourself on the pros and cons in order to make a good decision.
History of security cameras
Remember the security footage from generations past? The quality is laughable by today’s standards. Even costly systems in banks produced little more than grainy black and white footage, making it difficult to identify a person of interest. Early home systems were usually set up outside to view persons coming and going from the driveway or front door via a TV screen in the house, with equally poor footage.
Hidden cameras inside the home, soon dubbed “Nanny Cams,” became popular in the 90’s. Usually connected to a VHS recorder, these units recorded the activities in any room of the house, often where child care was occurring. These recordings revealed some shocking events, like trusted baby sitters abusing children, bringing unauthorized visitors into the home, or stealing. News footage of these events made nanny cams even more popular, as people became suspicious of what may be happening when they weren’t around.
With the advent of digital cameras, surveillance became easier and more cost effective. Tiny memory cards replaced bulky tapes and held more footage of a higher quality. Trail cameras, like the ones used in wildlife tracking and photography, could be set to take photo or video when motion was detected. This kind of camera was useful for many years in the field of lost pet recovery.
Smart phones changed pretty much everything in our world, including photography and videography. It wasn’t long before apps were developed to remotely manage security cameras, and now they are so affordable and easily set up that they are a common sight in many homes. Should you buy one (or more) for your home? If so, which kind? What are the pros and (sometimes surprising) cons?
1) Security. This is the original purpose for these kinds of cameras, and it still serves that purpose today. When placed around the perimeter of your home, they can keep you aware of anyone who may be trying to trespass, break in, or otherwise behave suspiciously. With package theft on the rise, they can be a deterrent, although you may be surprised when you see who the thief is!
2) Checking on pets. This is the main reason I purchased one of these cameras. It sits in the living room and can swivel in any direction. It eases my mind to see everyone sleeping or hanging out while I’m away. If I did observe something that concerned me, I could call a neighbor to come over and check. Mine does have the audio option, but I don’t use it because I found that it confused my dogs to hear my voice but not see me.
3) Checking on home service providers. As a professional pet sitter, I have seen cameras become commonplace in client’s homes. No one likes them, but they do serve a purpose. If you are counting on someone to come over and a certain time and provide certain services, you have a right to make sure those services were completed as agreed. Mishaps happen, and if you see that no one has come to your house or that something is out of the ordinary, you can call your pet sitter to make sure everything is okay. I would rather have someone call me than find out later that a visit was missed due to a scheduling mix-up or other issue.
4) Your personal safety. If you get a notification on your phone that something is amiss, you can check it out before going home. If you see that a door is open or there is some other sign of a problem, you can call the police and wait outside until you know it is safe. You can call a friend or family member and have them accompany you so you are not alone. You can be aware of what is going on in and around your home while you remain at a safe distance.
5) Peace of mind. Knowing you can check on your home at any time, or receive a notification when something happens, can help you be more relaxed while you’re away. I worry that my animals may get into a fight or some other kind of trouble when no one is home, so being able to check – even in the dark – is very reassuring.
With benefits come risks, some significant. Cons include:
1) You can be hacked. Any device that can be accessed wirelessly by you can potentially be accessed by others. Just do a search for wireless networks from your laptop and you’ll see a list of all those in range. A hacker can quickly determine which devices are using default or other easy to guess passwords and gain access to your system. Once a hacker has such access, they can not only spy on you, they can potentially collect information to steal your identity. Check out this information on preventing your security cameras from being hacked.
2) Camera footage may do you no good. One of the most common and frustrating crimes of late is package theft. Known as “porch pirates,” some of these brazen thieves actually follow delivery trucks around residential neighborhoods and help themselves to the goods once they are delivered! You’ve probably seen such videos on social media, many clearly capturing the suspects’ faces and vehicles. So … they were arrested and the stolen goods were returned, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The suspects may not be known to police, so cannot be identified by name. If confronted, they can deny involvement and without proof, cannot be prosecuted. Posting such videos online may hinder any police investigation as well as open up the homeowner to a lawsuit or retaliation from the person(s) filmed.
3) Your privacy could be compromised. Bugs and wiretaps may seem like relics of pulp fiction novels from the early 1900’s, but today they exit in every home. Computers, mobile phones, tablets, and other devices including security cameras can record your every move and every word. Mobile devices even record your location with GPS. There’s a reason why high-profile folks like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and former FBI Director James Comey cover their computer cameras and microphones with tape. If you have an Alexa, just wave your hand in front of it — even from across the room — and watch the screen jump to life. The camera is not there just for your video chat, it’s on all the time.
4) You could be sued. As professional pet sitters, we are aware that many clients have cameras (and alarm systems, door lock keypads, and other smart devices) in their home. For the most part, this is your right, and can give you peace of mind that your home and pets are safe and well cared for. However, even in your own home it is possible to violate another’s privacy. While viewing your dog walker coming and going at the front door may not raise an issue, watching him or her in the home may indeed. In most states, you must have consent to monitor or record someone in a situation where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as when sleeping, dressing, or using the bathroom. Monitoring or recording a private conversation in many states requires the consent of all parties. If a visitor to your home finds out they were being viewed or listened to without consent, you could be held liable.
5) Cameras can become an obsession. If you suffer from anxiety or addiction, home cameras may not be for you. While it’s healthy to check when your pet sitter entered and exited the home, or take a peek at your pets once or twice a day, constantly checking the cameras can be unhealthy. While traveling, you want to focus on work or enjoy leisure, not obsess about what is happening at home. We recently had a client return home from an out of state vacation in the middle of the night because she saw on the camera that the dog had not eaten her dinner. If this could be you, you may want to rethink setting up a security system.
There are so many different kinds of cameras available that you will have to do your own research to determine which is best for you. Things to keep in mind are price – from as low as $35 to hundreds per unit – features, recording and storage capabilities, and ongoing costs. My cheap camera does not require a subscription, however, many do. You may need to pay this fee in order to activate video recording, storage, and sharing. You will need to look at all of these options as well as your budget to make a good decision.