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Google Doorbell With Facial Recognition Raises Privacy Concerns

Nest, the smart home company owned by Google, has launched a new doorbell with facial recognition that will scan your visitors and store their facial data in the cloud

Published by Claire Broadley

The new doorbell, named Hello, is designed to rival the Ring doorbell (now owned by Amazon), as well as smaller competitors like Skybell and Doorbird.

Facial recognition is the feature that sets Google’s camera-enabled doorbell apart from its competitors. But how will your neighbours and friends feel about their faces being recognised and stored by Google technology without them knowing?

New Faces

Facial recognition has been a controversial topic for several years. It’s used by police forces in various countries; the US database contains well over 110 million American citizens’ faces.

Tech companies are also getting in on the act to enhance security; Apple’s Face ID collects information on 3,000 different areas of the user’s face.

But not everyone is happy about facial recognition. When Facebook launched a feature that automatically identified users in uploaded pictures, the EU said it was unlawful. This year, it tried to reintroduce the feature and met similar criticism. (As an aside, Facebook’s system is more accurate than the one used by the FBI.)

For Nest Hello, Google requires the user to sign up for its cloud services and pay the appropriate fee. The doorbell records video via a live feed and then analyses the faces it detects, giving the owner the chance to label faces so that the software recognises them when they visit in future.

Filming Faces on Your Doorstep

In the UK, it’s advised not to point CCTV cameras towards other people’s land. The UK government website also advises CCTV owners to use privacy filters if you point cameras at pavements, and to get consent from neighbours.

Clearly, video doorbells are more likely to capture video of pavements than other types of CCTV. When you consider that the Hello is actually capturing and storing faces, you add another set of privacy concerns into the mix.

Here’s another question: how much do you trust Google? If you’re not keen on having it track your searches, and you’re wary of placing a Google Home around the house to record your conversations, you may also be very hesitant to put a data-harvesting doorbell outside your front door.

 

Google says that Nest data is securely encrypted and logins use two-factor authentication. That’s great. But it’s less clear about whether your family’s faces will be used to train its algorithms -- which is exactly what Google Home recordings are used for.

Alternative Options

If you don’t want to place a Google-connected, facial scanning camera on your porch, there are other alternatives to the £229 Nest Hello. The Ring, although owned by Amazon, does not (yet?) scan for faces. And for privacy-aware smart home enthusiasts, the Doorbird and Skybell have the added advantage of not being owned by Amazon or Google.