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I’m Sick of Smart Security Cameras, Here’s Why

The cloud is a nightmare.

An Eufy Security smart camera on the exterior of a building.
Ste Knight / Review Geek
An emphasis on cloud computing makes smart cameras expensive, annoying, and vulnerable to hackers.

Smart security cameras should help us protect our privacy and property. But cloud computing, the cornerstone of today’s smart home tech, is a machine that must stay in motion. It violates user privacy, and it intentionally creates friction to sell subscriptions, upgrades, and other nonsense.

Smart Homes Are a Hassle

I’ve owned and tested several smart security cameras. And regardless of the brand or the price, there’s always a bunch of stupid smart home quirks to deal with. These quirks are annoying, but more importantly, they limit a smart security camera’s usefulness.

The most common “quirk” I encounter is buggy software. I’m never surprised when a smart camera app gives me an error message, or when a live feed fails to load, or when a setting I’ve enabled doesn’t work. Even well-known brands like Google Nest and Amazon Ring are terrible at patching bugs in their software, leaving customers with paperweights that occasionally double as cameras.

Speaking of paperweights, cloud-reliant devices are doomed for an early grave. Manufacturers intentionally end support for smart home devices after just a few years (usually to dodge security vulnerabilities). If smart cameras weren’t so entrenched in the cloud, they could operate for decades. Instead, the manufacturer gets to tell you when to throw away your security camera.

And, as any smart home customer knows, these products don’t always do what you expect. Maybe you read about a camera’s awesome features on Amazon, only to realize that those features require a subscription. Or, maybe you bought a Google Nest Cam to watch its live video feed on your Google Pixel Watch—surprise, the Nest Cam only sends live video to Apple and Samsung watches!

This stuff drives me insane. A security camera should work as expected, and it should continue working until it physically breaks. We’ve had IP (internet protocol) security cameras for decades; they connect to a central DVR or computer that manages footage, alerts a user to anything weird, and so on. Smart home companies took this straightforward technology and decided to hold it ransom in the cloud, over-complicating everything and making worse products in the process.

How Much Am I Supposed to Spend on This Stuff?

Google indoor and outdoor Nest Cam, Learning Thermostate, and Hello doorbell at ADT's CES 2023 booth
Justin Duino / Review Geek

The average smart security camera or doorbell runs between $50 and $200. If you live in a house, you may need several of these cameras just to keep an eye on your exits and entrances. But even after you spend a couple hundred dollars on the hardware, you’re pushed to pay for a monthly subscription.

Every smart camera brand (minus a few outliers) locks functionality behind a subscription. Some of this functionality, like AI-assisted vehicle detection, isn’t all that important. The problem is that basic functionality often requires a subscription—you can only view a few seconds of video unless you pay up, and your camera will enforce a long “cooldown” period between recordings if you’re not a subscriber.

This is where cloud-based functionality just feels like punishment. Footage of your property, which was recorded by your camera, is tucked behind a paywall on some server.

And yet, the company you’re supposed to trust with this footage is free to do whatever it wants. Almost every smart camera brand says it “anonymizes” user data for third parties, and Ring keeps giving recordings to the police without user consent.

I know that cloud storage costs money. But smart home companies intentionally force you into the world of cloud storage. They avoid local storage solutions, which would be far cheaper for consumers.

And when a smart camera actually offers local storage, it’s usually just a new annoyance. You might be forced to use a paltry 32GB microSD card, for example. And as we’ve learned from Eufy, local content can still end up in the cloud.

I Hate Trading Privacy for Peace of Mind

The Wyze Cam Outdoor on a porch.
Michael Crider / Review Geek

Smart home devices are grossly, disturbingly unsecured. We see dozens of new smart home hacks and vulnerabilities each year. Unfortunately, smart security cameras are often the subject of these stories.

It’s hard to find a smart camera brand that hasn’t had a major security problem—not necessarily a hack, but a problem. Amazon’s Ring is the most well-known example. It was the subject of several hacks in 2019 and 2020. Strangers accessed and spoke through Ring cameras, verbally harassing and violating the privacy of victims. (Amazon’s response was to blame customers for using bad passwords. It has since upgraded its security practices and mandated 2FA for all accounts.)

More recently, Wyze was caught hiding a critical vulnerability that may have allowed hackers to view strangers’ camera feeds. Security researchers warned Wyze of this vulnerability, but the smart home brand waited three years to do anything about it. We only learned of the vulnerability when researchers lost their patience and went public.

And Eufy—oh, poor Eufy. It’s one of the few brands to sell “cloud-free” smart cameras with local storage and zero subscriptions. Eufy should be my dream brand, but it was caught lying about how it handles data when researchers found a way to access strangers’ camera feeds. Eufy responded by denying everything.

So, on top of all the annoyances and subscriptions, smart security cameras are a threat to your personal privacy. Some people aren’t bothered by this problem, but it limits my ability to secure my home, as I’m not comfortable placing smart cameras indoors or anywhere that might reveal my personal information.

To be clear, we no longer suggest Eufy or Wyze and have removed both brands from our product roundups. We gave Ring a similar treatment in 2020, though we are much more comfortable with Ring today, thanks to its updated security practices. (Although I’m frustrated that Ring keeps lying about its involvement with law enforcement.)

Still, I’ll Keep Using These Dang Cameras

A pair of Arlo battery-powered smart security cameras
Craig Lloyd / Review Geek

Sometimes you’re stuck with something you hate. And that’s the situation I’m in with my smart security cameras. While I’d love to ditch this stuff, I’ve spent too much money on it, and I can’t afford an upgrade to something better.

Plus, some smart camera features are just too good to ignore. I love that I receive notifications when someone’s at my door, especially while I’m away from home. And on more than one occasion, I’ve watched a friend defend their home by activating the siren on their smart cameras.

If I ever get angry enough, I may punish myself by building a self-hosted smart camera system. Tools like Synology Surveillance Station can connect with several brands of IP security cameras, forming a centralized system that stores everything locally and avoids some of my smart camera gripes.

But let’s be honest; I’m probably stuck in smart camera purgatory.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »