On Thursday, Amazon announced a dozen or so new products, including a game streaming service, several new spherical Echo speakers, and an Echo Show that will follow you around the room. Speaking of following you around the room, the thing that caught the most attention was a security drone that flies around the inside of your home and records video. Yes, inside your home.
We'll come back to whether you really want to give Amazon that kind of access to what's happening in your life in a moment. First, let's be clear on exactly what the new Ring Always Home Cam does. Actually, let's first acknowledge that it's kind of a remarkable marketing decision to release a drone spy camera that doesn't include the word drone in the name at all.
The release referred to it as "an autonomous indoor camera that enables users to see multiple viewpoints throughout their home with one device." Yes, that's technically what this is. I just feel like "flies around your house with a video camera" is an important variable. Instead, we get "Ring Always Home Cam."
I mean, aren't all Ring products technically "always home"? They're either attached to the wall next to your front door, or they're plugged in somewhere inside, right?
This one, however, is designed to fly a preset pattern based on the layout of your home. When you're away, it can fly its route to check on things throughout the home, or respond when an alarm is activated.
Ring says that the run time is only about five minutes, at which point it returns to its base station to charge. The company has said that the short flight time is deliberate. The Always Home Cam isn't a video drone, but a "purpose-built security camera." It can't even be controlled manually.
There does seem to be a bit of a problem, however. If you're paranoid enough about security to think you want this, you definitely don't want this. I mean, it's still a device that is capable of flying around your home and literally recording everything you do.
Amazon does seem to be trying hard to make the point that this device is designed with "privacy in mind." The website even describes it as "privacy you can hear," a reference to the fact that the drone's rotors hum while it's in flight. I guess the point is that you'll at least hear it coming before it starts recording you.
I reached out to the company to clarify the privacy protections in place and a spokesperson told me:
Privacy, security, and user control are foundational to Ring and guide everything we do. Earlier this year, Ring was the first in our industry to make two-step verification mandatory, and this week we announced that we will be offering End-to-End Encryption to our customers. Ring is always working to introduce new features and updates to ensure customers know their information is safe with Ring.
Even if all of that is true, it's understandable that you might have a hard time getting past the question of whether you really want to give a giant tech company like Amazon more access to the inside of your home. Remember when we found out people were, in fact, listening to our recorded Alexa interactions? Or perhaps you remember when the login information for Ring user accounts was leaked, giving hackers access to the video feeds of compromised devices?
Or that recently Amazon released a wearable device, the setup of which required users to photograph themselves in their underwear? But, hey, sure, let's fly that company's drone through the living room.
All of that represents an interesting challenge for Ring. The company designs products for home security, but in order to provide that service, a user has to be willing to trust Ring with his or her privacy. Then again, Amazon consistently comes out at the top of the list of companies that people trust, which is why this idea might actually work.
Plus, two things are true right now: Most of us are spending a lot more time at home working, and all of the offices we used to work at are empty. Those two things combined could provide a compelling reason to have a drone that protects your office while you're not there.
More important, this is really a lesson for every business: Trust matters. Especially when you're literally asking your customers to let you into their homes and give access to the most personal aspects of their lives. If customers trust Amazon, they just might be willing to trust that this drone is as secure and privacy-focused as the company claims.
Of course, at this point you can't actually buy one. It hasn't been approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is why Amazon isn't planning to make it available for purchase until next year. When it does, you can have your very own security drone from Amazon. That'll give you some time to decide if you really want it.