The first story is from Wired and concerns Ring doorbells. I’m a big fan of the Ring solution, as a homeowner, it really appeals to me. Sadly, I live in the middle of nowhere and the local snails move at a faster speed than our WiFi. So, Ring doesn’t really work me, but I still love the concept.
According to Wired, such is their popularity in suburban American communities that their inbuilt, movement-sensor cameras are creating an entirely new surveillance network which would never have otherwise existed.
Ring has even gone so far as to partner with police forces across the country: the police are granted access to Ring’s customer video database in exchange for actively promoting Ring products.
I wrote about Viewber last week, mentioning its remote viewing solution. It’s great, but does rely on an outside key system.
It seems to me that Ring, or a similar alternative, are a potential Viewber disrupter - I know they are considering this, but still.
If Ring could link the camera to a key storage system (or even an IOT door system of which I have seen many), giving homeowners total control over access regardless of where in the world they are, hey presto! An improvement on the current solutions on the market.
But I digress. While the product may be great, the new levels of surveillance they introduce are more questionable. Is it a good thing to passively monitor innocent, albeit sometimes eccentric, community behaviour? While accountability is an important part of our society, do we want always to be seen?
I remember the days when CCTV was widely considered a threat to our freedom and our privacy. CCTV cameras began to appear on t-shirts and posters everywhere, all painting an Orwellian picture of surveillance.
I’m yet to see the same backlash about smart doorbells. Good marketing, perhaps? Or are we becoming more accommodating of widespread surveillance?
I briefly mentioned accountability, above, and that leads to the second story, one which tells of rapidly improving surveillance technology happening in the country.
This most recent story tells us that a Chinese scientist has developed a so-called super camera which can pinpoint an exact person or object among tens of thousands of people. But this is only the most recent episode in China’s efforts to monitor its citizens.
A few years ago, the Chinese government made headlines when they officially made Charlie Brooker a secular prophet by copying his idea for the brilliant Black Mirror episode, Nosedive, and taking efforts to put everyone in the country on a points scoring system. A system which would affect each person’s daily experiences and interactions.
This was all brought back to the forefront of my mind a few weeks ago at the PropTech Summit in Sydney.
It was Antony Ceravolo, CEO of Sine HQ and one of the co-founders of LoveFilm, and his presentation about facial recognition technology, discussing both the threats and opportunities it creates, which did it.
Such technology is set to revolutionise building access, a process which remains archaic throughout the world. When you consider that the future of residential is going focus largely on urban, fashionable, high-rise, multi-tenant buildings, it’s clear that access needs improving to match the levels of efficiency that tenants are already demanding from most other areas of the experience.
Facial recognition is already unlocking our phones, and what is a phone but the home of our virtual life?
It seems like a sensible solution until you remember what’s happening in China, at which point it all grows a little murky.
For agents, there are definite opportunities to be found in facial recognition access. In an instant, when a potential renter or buyer turns up for a viewing, not only will the camera be able to grant them access, it will also deliver to you background checks, affordability checks, and so on, essentially handling all of that bother so you don’t have to.
However, we can’t be naive. Not when it comes to monitoring people; taking passive control over their lives. It’s great to encourage people to be accountable for how they choose to live, but how much is too much? The right to be forgotten, for example, is surely long gone here?
It is, therefore, going to require a careful balance for agents and firms who are thinking about adopting these solutions, including today with Ring.
It may well offer greater efficiency and ease, but could equally put off many people who are uncomfortable with their homes coming with such in-built surveillance. Whose right is it to know who I invite round to my flat?
I know people will say, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear, but let’s be realistic. Agents and landlords need tenants. If you remove everyone who feels they have something to hide from that pool, you’re seriously diminishing your market.
Remember ID cards? That concept went well in the UK, didn’t it? That was just about having to carry a small plastic card around with us, so how will people react when awareness around this new generation of watchers increases?
As a landlord, I know full well that the most annoying thing I can do for my tenants is be present. They would much rather be left alone.
If I were to install a smart doorbell in the flat, they’re almost certain to react negatively - though I suspect some forward-thinking tenants may welcome this futuristic access control feature.
I think this whole thing is an interesting exercise in taking a step back and looking at new solutions and innovations from a distance before jumping in.
While they might present good opportunities for professionals, will it actually be a welcome change for the customer? Or is the inevitable public backlash against things like this a good reason to avoid being associated with it?
*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.