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VMblog Expert Interview: Valid Talks Benefits and Privacy Concerns of Latest Security Technologies


Amazon Prime Day may be over, but the notion that millions of more homes own devices like the Ring doorbell is still very much the reality.  Ring is a surveillance technology that incorporates outdoor cameras and voice technology.  This technology, and others like it, could have a huge impact on ushering in a more surveillance-focused world amid growing privacy concerns. 

VMblog spoke with Kevin Freiburger, Director of Identity Programs at Valid, to learn more about the best practices for proper use of surveillance and security technology and the impact this technology will have on the growing roster of privacy concerns.

VMblog:  Are technology solutions like the Ring doorbell creating a surveillance state?

Kevin Freiburger:  I'd argue the Ring doorbell does not create a surveillance state. The strength of the US is in the clear separation between private and public enterprise, and I'd be very concerned if the US government launched devices like the Ring product suite. Instead, this is a private corporation launching a device that adds real value to its users, who are going out and buying the product. 

When a headline appears that mentions Ring has partnered with 200 law enforcement agencies, that isn't the whole story. There are tools and apps for law enforcement to find Ring users and ask for footage to solve crimes, but the owners still have to consent to provide footage. The law enforcement agencies do not have unfettered access to the actual footage and would need a warrant like anything else.

VMblog:  What are the benefits of technology like the Ring doorbell? 

Freiburger:  One benefit of the technology is that it's a safety measure used by many users. Any security expert will say that physical and logical security is about layering different forms of security so that the user feels safer in their home. If I'm a criminal, do I risk going after the Ring home where there is potential footage of the incident, or do I go for the home that might have no footage?

Another benefit is that smart doorbells like Ring allow family members to see who might be approaching the door and can alert the family. For families with small children, parents can teach their children to view the device when someone's at the door and only answer it if it's a known person. For example, my front door has window panes along each side and if there is a bad actor at the front door and my child goes to answer it but decides not to, the potential actor can see the whole interaction. However, with a smart doorbell, family members could see the visitor ahead of time and alert the rest of the family.

VMblog:  What about privacy concerns?  How can companies balance privacy and technology?

Freiburger:  Private companies need to empower users with clear and concise messaging and terms of service. A 40-page terms of service agreement doesn't work for the everyday consumer who will never read it or understand the language. It's the company's job to market its features clearly and provide the user with a choice if he or she wishes to participate. If information is being uploaded to remote servers, that's something the company should clearly explain. When companies are crystal clear about how personal data is being used or stored, consumers can make their own decisions and weigh the privacy tradeoffs.

VMblog:  What are some of the applications of security technologies?  What impact will technology like facial recognition have?

Freiburger:  We are seeing that impact now. Consumers are adopting security technology and facial recognition when they authenticate or unlock their devices, like phones or tablets. Instead of typing in a username and password, apps can also integrate with the technology to authenticate users through face recognition. These are examples of great, secure applications for facial recognition without privacy tradeoffs.

However, certain security technologies can be used nefariously. Just look at the Chinese government who has shown its interest to use facial recognition to perform mass surveillance on the general population, with massive privacy implications.

VMblog:  What are some of the key things the public should know about tech companies and their privacy?

Freiburger:  Tech companies gather a lot of data, so consumers should demand to know if and how their data is being used so they can make informed decisions. If all consumers blindly use technology products and don't ask these hard questions, there isn't much of an incentive for tech companies to disclose information. The federal government started asking questions when they brought Google and Facebook executives to Congress to testify about data usage. While this is great progress, consumers have just as much leverage as the government, since they're the ones buying the products. It's time to hold companies to higher standards.


Published Wednesday, August 14, 2019 7:37 AM by David Marshall
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