Do you want a camera in your kid’s bedroom??

This morning’s disturbing privacy story is the revelation that live feeds from thousands of ‘home security cameras’ run by the US company Trendnet have been ‘breached’, allowing anyone on the net access to video feeds, without the need for a password. It was reported in the BBC here, by their technology reporter Leo Kelion.

It’s a disturbing tale. As Kelion describes it:

“Internet addresses which link to the video streams have been posted to a variety of popular messageboard sites. Users have expressed concern after finding they could view children’s bedrooms among other locations. US-based Trendnet says it is in the process of releasing updates to correct a coding error introduced in 2010.”

The internet being what it is, news of the problem seems to have spread faster than Trendnet has been able to control it. This is from Kelion’s piece again:

“Within two days a list of 679 web addresses had been posted to one site, and others followed – in some cases listing the alleged Google Maps locations associated with each camera. Messages on one forum included: “someone caught a guy in denmark (traced to ip) getting naked in the bathroom.” Another said: “I think this guy is doing situps.”

One user wrote “Baby Spotted,” causing another to comment “I feel like a pedophile watching this”.

A cautionary tale, one might think, and to privacy people like me a lot of questions immediately come to mind. Many of them, particularly the technical ones, have been answered in Kelion’s piece. There is one question, however, that is conspicuous by its absence from Kelion’s otherwise excellent piece: what are the cameras doing in children’s bedrooms in the first place? Is it normal, now, to have this kind of level of surveillance in our private homes? In our children’s bedrooms?

I asked Kelion about this on twitter, and his initial (and admirably instant) response was that security cameras were nothing new, but the breach in the feeds was. That was news, the presence of the cameras was not. That set me thinking – and made me write this blog. Is he right? Should we just ‘accept’ the presence of surveillance even in our most intimate and private places? The success of companies like Trendnet suggests that many thousands of people do accept it – but I hope that millions more don’t. I also hope that an affair like this will make some people think twice before installing their own ‘private’ big brother system.

Surveillance is a double-edged sword. Just as any data on the internet is ultimately vulnerable, so is any data feed – the only way for data not to be vulnerable is for it not to exist. Those parents wanting to protect their children from being watched in the internet have a simple solution: don’t install the cameras in the first place!

It’s the same story over and over again in the world of privacy and surveillance. We build systems, gather data, set up infrastructures and then seem shocked and amazed when they prove vulnerable. It shouldn’t be a surprise… we should think before we build, think before we design, think before we install…

13 thoughts on “Do you want a camera in your kid’s bedroom??

  1. I have a similar model of cam at home. I use it as a security cam – it gets switched on when I leave home & emails me photos of any movement. I can also watch live via my phone.I can see the need to survey personal property. I can also see the desire to keep an eye on the nanny, cleaner, and painter.Watching your own kids… If they're on the 3rd floor & you don't want to climb the stairs to investigate every noise… perhaps.It does feel a bit creepy – but is it any worse than sitting in your child's room while they sleep?

  2. For me, it is worse than sitting in your child's room while they sleep – partly because of the risks involved (of which this story is an example) and partly because it's a permanent system, functioning 24/7.What's more, I don't sit in my child's room every hour that they sleep – and wouldn't want to either for their sake or for mine. Also, I don't sit in my child's room all the time she's awake – she needs her privacy too, and has a right to it. I do understand that not all parents think their children have a right to privacy, but from my perspective they do. I've blogged on the subject before – even at five years old my daughter often specifically asks for privacy. I respect that….

    1. that’s awesome! this may sound silly but, what if we made a petition? Make it illegal EVERYONE want’s needs and deserves their privacy so, WHY NOT?

  3. Paul, As I mentioned this morning on Twitter, when I involved the journalist Leo Kellion on Twitter, I can understand a marginal need for such surveillance for babies who suffer from apnea, or elderly people, etc… In which case, there is a need for permanent surveillance. I was less sure about the need to broadcast online but you had the technical argument for it. what I wish Kellion could have answered was which other rooms were monitored, apart his mention of the bathroom and if recordings were kept of the footage. I have also Googled the product and nowhere I could find any warning for buyers about the firmware security whole. According to the article, the company could not contact them as rarely buyers would register their product. ~That means the movie is still on?

  4. I'd hoped he would at least acknowledge your concerns – or mine… but maybe he will tomorrow. I'll tweet him again in the morning with the link, and see if he reads the blog!

  5. I don't have kids so am not best placed to judge. However, kids need privacy. They need safety and security but surely they get that from having a parent, relative or sitter in the house who can respond if they need anything. If a person doesn't trust their own child, that's a problem. If they feel the need to keep an eye on those in the house (i.e. sitter), then why leave the kids alone with them. I'm probably missing entirely valid uses of this technology, but the kiddie camera sounds like a symptom of something. And if they're networked, the opportunity for this kind of security breach sounds too obvious to take the risk.

  6. No, I don't think you're missing anything – the opposite, I think you've got one of the main points spot on. It's about replacing trust with technology, and then being shocked that the technology lets them down…. Thanks for the comment!

  7. I think having a camera in your child’s bedroom is ABSOLUTELY ridiculous and should be made illegal. There can be cameras in public places for safety as: in a store or a stadium. A child’s room is no place for a camera. If public places can’t have cameras in the bathrooms for privacy reasons, what’s the difference of putting a camera in your child’s bedroom. A child’s bedroom should be a place where they can hang out an know that they are not being constantly watched or they don’t feel violated or as if the’re being continually judged. If you can’t trust your child you should try to find other means of knowing what is going on, and if you should be worried or not. I am COMPLETELY against cameras in the bedrooms because, it will not only upset your child it will also lead them to be very uncomfortable around you or even lash out (rebel) against you. So if you want to look at it this way, a camera won’t help their situation just make it worse. For example: Let’s say you put one up in their room and you find out they had a friend over while you where away and that upsets you, you should’t necessarily just do nothing but having a camera in their room while they where grounded would make them even more upset to the point to where they might hurt themselves or even try to commit suicide. Now this may seem extreme but i know because of that experience that it is not good for them. It’s CRAZY what this world has come to that parents can’t just trust their children. They’re going to do bad things sometimes no matter what you do, and you should know that, we all did it as kids so you know how you would feel with a camera in your room. If you just try to teach them right they will be more understanding rather than thinking you can never trust them. How they turn out is completely up to them. There is a fine line between guiding them and dictating. You can guide them and do the best you can to teach them right but don’t put the reins on to tight or they’re more likely to do something you don’t want them to. And i’ll give a little Le way and say that ****** under very strict circumstances****** I could understand a camera in the living room for that purpose. some people have them to make sure their belongings are okay so, if you have one you can check on your children and your belongings that way. If you don’t just go ahead and get one ******under very strict circumstances******.

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