VIDEO: Surveillance is in at CES Gadget Show – in a big way

‘Many, many horrible stories have come out of consumer electronics,’ privacy advocate says

In this Jan. 7, 2019 file photo, the new Door View Cam is on display at the Ring booth before CES International in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

From the face scanner that will check in some attendees to the cameras-everywhere array of digital products, the CES gadget show is all-in on surveillance technology — whether it calls it that or not.

Nestled in the “smart home” and “smart city” showrooms at the sprawling Las Vegas consumer tech conference are devices that see, hear and track the people they encounter. Some of them also analyze their looks and behaviour. The technology on display includes eyelid-tracking car dashboard cameras to prevent distracted driving and “rapid DNA” kits for identifying a person from a cheek swab sample.

All these talking speakers, doorbell cameras and fitness trackers come with the promise of making life easier or more fun, but they’re also potentially powerful spying tools. And the skeptics who raise privacy and security concerns can be easily drowned out in the flashy spectacle of gee-whiz technology.

“Many, many horrible stories have come out of consumer electronics,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is speaking on a panel about the future of internet-connected devices. “It’s often about hyping the next thing you can buy and not considering the trade-offs.”

The event runs Tuesday to Friday after two days of media previews. The annual showcase is where big companies and startups unveil and promote their latest gadgets, many of them infused with microphones, cameras and artificial intelligence. Though weighted toward the consumer market, much of what’s on display may also be useful to law enforcement, not to mention prying employers or heavy-handed governments.

Marcus Yang, CEO of the camera startup Amaryllo, said he’s had a difficult time persuading customers to pay more for safeguards such as faster processors to enable end-to-end encryption, when an array of cheaper, but less secure options are available.

Attendees “want to see technology and something fresh,” Yang said. “They’re only interested in looking at your cameras and what kind of features they have.”

Yang said he’s hopeful that “something is changing this year” after a series of privacy scandals and security breaches has brought attention to the dangers of unfettered surveillance technology. And eventually, he said, regulators are likely to step in with security requirements.

Amazon’s security camera division Ring, which is setting up a “Ring House” to show off its home devices, has recently had to defend its safety practices following reports of hackers breaking into Ring camera systems and harassing children. It’s also faced criticism from privacy advocates and U.S. lawmakers over its growing partnerships with police.

Ring competitor Wyze Labs, an honoree at this year’s innovation awards, announced a data breach just after Christmas affecting 2.4 million customers. And widely used voice assistants made by Google, Amazon and Apple all came under scrutiny in 2019 for data retention practices that allowed employees and contractors to listen to users’ audio recordings.

There’s been some push back, at least on facial recognition and other surveillance technology from China. Hikvision and iFlytek, two Chinese tech companies that showed off their artificial intelligence at CES 2019, now face U.S. export restrictions because the Trump administration says the technology has been used in the repression of China’s Muslims.

But China isn’t the only place where the lines have blurred between consumer technology and government surveillance operations. Watchful residents of American neighbourhoods are increasingly encouraged by Ring to share their doorbell video footage with police detectives. And device-makers are counting on consumers buying into ever-more elaborate forms of computer vision and other AI technology to give them peace of mind.

Camera-maker Arlo this week launched its first wireless floodlight camera, with night vision, a siren, two-way audio to converse with intruders and an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust its brightness. Another company, Sunflower Labs, is using CES to show off its “home drone security” system. If trespassers step onto your lawn, a camera-equipped drone flies out from its resting place to take a look at them and streams the live video to your phone.

Sound like something that might guard the lair of a James Bond villain? CEO Alex Pachikov says it’s actually less intrusive to neighbours than your run-of-the-mill doorbell camera, because it’s only looking down at your own property.

READ MORE: Federal watchdog looks into anti-competition practices in the digital economy

RELATED: B.C. man’s dash-cam captures suspected ‘keying’ of Tesla

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Techstars Penticton took start-ups from ideas to pitches in 54 hours over the weekend

Local businesspeople worked their ideas to present before a panel of judges.

South Okanagan resident Henry Kriwokon celebrates 100th birthday

Family, friends, police officer and bagpiper gathered at restaurant on Sunday to celebrate milestone

South Okanagan ski hill reports ex-employee to RCMP, closes lift amid investigation

‘We are actively investigating and dealing with the actions of a former employee,’ said the resort

Penticton woman wins $500,000 lotto prize

Anna Fodor collected $500,000 with her winning ticket

Alleged Penticton shooter, John Brittain, appears in court to set trial date

Brittain waived his right to a preliminary hearing and opted to proceed straight to trial

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

BC Place lights up in purple and yellow to honour Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash

Suspect reported head-butting Chase RCMP officer in face during arrest

Charges laid include break and enter, assault, resisting arrest and assault causing bodily harm

Whistleblower says Iranian-Americans questioned at Peace Arch crossing were targeted

Immigration lawyer says response from Customs Border Protection is a ‘total cover up’

‘Big money’ funding B.C. politics now mostly from taxpayers

Campaign targets $16 million and counting in ‘politician welfare’

VIDEO: Music stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant at Grammys award show

Music artists including Billy Ray Cyrus, Rick Ross and Kirk Franklin paid tribute to Bryant

John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce on display at Royal BC Museum

The classic car has been a favourite for Beatles fans from Victoria and internationally

Coastal GasLink stresses pipeline ‘on a schedule’ as B.C. appoints liaison for Wet’suwet’en

670-kilometre pipeline is schedule to be completed by end of 2023

Most Read