Unpopular opinion: Ring’s drone camera is unjustly maligned

photo of ring drone

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a relatively early employee of Ring. I had equity in Ring and made money when Ring was acquired by Amazon, and then I made money from the Amazon stock I bought with said money. I have a variety of opinions about Ring and having been on the inside has left me with more criticism than praise, but I’m not immune to having bias, so take these opinions with a grain of salt.

There were plenty of takes on Twitter this week about Ring’s newly announced indoor drone that will fly around inside your home patrolling it. It’s their most ambitious hardware project to date.

At some level I get it; the concept sounds so wild that it immediately invites criticism. A massive tech company designed a drone that flies around your house recording things. Also, tech companies at the scale of Amazon should be subject to incredible scrutiny in everything they make.

But my reaction to the product itself was the opposite: finally, an indoor security camera I wouldn’t feel weird having in my house!

I’ve been interested in indoor security cameras for awhile, but I don’t want cameras in my home that are always able to see things. The drone cleverly addresses that; when it’s docked the camera is covered. And when it’s recording, you’re going to know. It’s a drone, so it’s going to be making some noise, and when it’s flying around it’s bound to catch the eye. And critically, I could configure the drone to only record when I leave home and arm the security system. (And sure, I could configure the non-flying cameras to do that too, but I can rest assured that the drone isn’t going to get hacked and start recording me without me knowing).

Of all of Ring’s cameras, this is perhaps the least likely device to non-consensually record people (who didn’t break into your house). I’ve carefully configured my doorbells’ and outdoor security cameras’ motion detection zones so that movement has to be on my property for them to start recording, but even then there’s no guarantee a passerby won’t be recorded because it’s possible the camera might happen to be on for another movement when they happen to pass by.

Furthermore, I’m encouraged to see that Ring is stepping up privacy by enabling end-to-end encryption for videos on doorbells that can handle it (I’m hoping this includes the Pro doorbell and isn’t just exclusive to devices that connect to 120V). We’ll have to see how meaningful the encryption ends up being (if it’s E2E encrypted but Ring has the keys, then what’s the point?) but a step like that shows me that Ring is beginning to understand customers aren’t going to trust them just because they say “trust us”. The hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of Ring cameras watching the area around Ring customers’ homes might well add up to one of the biggest surveillance camera operations in the world. It’s been eating at my mind for years that the company has all of these video files sitting there, unencrypted and viewable by anyone in the company that can get to those files. E2E encryption being an option helps me rest a little easier about that situation.

Bottom line: this drone improves on indoor security cameras in some really clever ways but that all got lost in the noise because of collective knee-jerk reactions to the thought of drones, and instead people are thinking of it as reaching new heights of privacy invasion.

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