Machine translations by Deepl

The Telltale Society

Two weeks back, there was a burglary in the street, in broad daylight, in two homes. Any CCTV footage? No.

Encouraged by the police, we in the Netherlands film the streets en masse and a collective mass surveillance emerges. Taking your dog for a walk, you do have a great time with that lady or gentleman from the neighbourhood and an inkling of suspicion is enough to create a neighbourhood soap opera.

Despite initial protest are the camera doorbells for many years equipped with facial recognition. A little handy programmer from the area builds it yourself an app and records for the whole neighbourhood who is walking the dog. All the images are stored in the manufacturers' cloud systems, where it remains to be seen what they really do with that. The doorbells are easy to hack, so also for interested Chinese and Russians who want to be able to recognise faces. Then there's the police who can requisition the images, which can be used to get your name and address in a criminal case may end up (see from 14:08)

But in a street burglary, real risks quickly lose out to fear. The crook must be caught and camera footage gives a sense of control in a powerless situation. With manufacturers' fear promotion and lack of enforcement, a 'new normal' seems to be emerging. It may not be allowed, but it is not enforced and who cares? Certainly not the police.

These problems with video doorbells are not new. Since 2020 reports the BBC al about the same and in 2021, someone in England was charged in a privacy case vindicated. In the Netherlands, a public debate on the matter erupted in recent weeks.


Because the Personal Data Authority (AP) may rely on the courts on a lack of capacity, run neighbour quarrels turn into lawsuits and violators are barely dealt with. If we do get the AP to enforce properly, we are not there yet.

If a drone is suddenly hovering over your backyard next summer, then feel you feel spied upon. You are forced to adjust your behaviour, regardless of Whether there is actually filming. The panopticon that the drone creates is the real intrusion into your private life. A software setting in the camera does not change that. Also, the AP recognises this problem, but cannot ban a 'dummy camera'.

If the camera is no longer facing the street, there is still the issue of 'parcel deliverer'. The face of everyone who comes to the door is archived, analysed and possibly identified. As the owner of the camera, you have a duty of information, but most cameras lack that sticker. Have you been filmed? Then the owner must share that footage with you or delete it if you ask for it.

The project 'Shutterring' (a slider for your doorbell camera) seems mostly a playful concept, but may be the only effective solution to the above. Others have so the security That they are not filmed.

Data sovereignty (or pink elephant)

If the camera doorbells all have a 'shutter ring' soon, the remaining images will still be in Amazon and Google's cloud systems. Massively, we accept those terms of use and then hope the manufacturers comply.

A much better solution is to move all images and data to a personal, secure environment of the camera owner. We see the need for this 'data sovereignty', a technical implementation of the right to informational self-determination, coming back in more and more areas, and there are already solutions heading in this direction such as Schluss and Solid Pods. That does require a commitment towards manufacturers to start facilitating that in a user-friendly way.

The pink elephant in the room is, of course, to store nothing at all.


A solution requires enforcement, regulation and adaptation of technology. A 'shutter ring' as standard on every camera would be a particularly efficient, effective and simple partial solution. The biggest advantage: you don't need the manufacturers to do it.

Creating data sovereignty and a different role for manufacturers will require some more work.

Privacy First has been part of the new 'Consortium of Friendly Doorbells' since early this year, in which the issue and solutions will be explored. Website follows.


Reference work

Update: 5 April 2024

Personal Data Authority

Guidelines 'Cameras at home'

AT5 - 19 March 2024

The rise of the smart doorbell: very convenient for the police, but not for your privacy

BNR News Radio - 15 March 2024

Home addresses witnesses findable through online verdicts
The addresses of citizens who share camera footage with the police can in some cases be traced from judgments published online, BNR research shows.

NRC - March 7, 2024 (paywalled)

1.2 million smart doorbells are filming you - and your privacy prevails

De Volkskrant - 5 March 2024 (paywalled)

Essay by Huib Modderkolk
The Dutch are starting to recognise the digital threat. Time to take those concerns seriously

LinkedIn / Jeroen Terstegge - 4 March 2024

Central Netherlands court: AP need not launch enforcement investigation into allegedly unlawfully hung neighbour's cameras Analysis by Jeroen Terstegge. - 29 Feb 2024

Popular video doorbells can be easily hijacked, researchers find

De Volkskrant Podcast - 27 Feb 2024

1.2 million smart doorbells are filming Dutch streets: is it allowed? (Spotify link)

Domestic governance - 26 Feb 2024

Rise of smart doorbell raises questions - 24 Feb 2024

Privacy First fears 'snitch society' due to rise of doorbell cameras

RTL News - 23 Feb 2024

Smart doorbell not harmless: these are the (privacy) risks

De Volkskrant - 23 Feb 2024 (paywalled)

Smart doorbell leads to boom in privacy complaints

NPO Radio 1 - 23 Feb 2024

Thijs in Radio 1's podcast

Wed - 8 Feb 2024 (paywalled)

If you are on the doorstep, you will be filmed by the doorbell camera

Parole - Jan 27, 2024 (paywalled)

Smart doorbell dilemma: 'With all those images shared in neighbourhood apps, feelings of insecurity are more likely to increase' - 25 Jan 2024

Amazon Ring no longer lets US police request footage via Neighbors app. - Jan 23, 2024

AP receives many complaints about doorbell cameras: large proportion hanging illegally

NL Times - Jan 24, 2024

Police regularly force people to give up footage from doorbell cameras: report

AVROTROS / EenVandaag - 23 Jan 2024

Police may force to share doorbell camera footage: 'You really need to be aware of that'

Broadcast EenVandaag (from 14:08)

BNR News Radio - 22 Jan 2024

Doorbell camera makes citizens targets of coercive police measures
Doorbell camera owners often have to forcibly hand over their video footage to the police, according to a BNR poll. Lawyers warn that this is how unsuspecting citizens end up in criminal files.

AT5 - 20 Jan 2024

Green Left worries about growing number of smart doorbells in city
Amsterdam's GroenLinks group is concerned about the rising number of doorbells with a camera, a so-called 'smart doorbell'. According to the party, the effects of doorbells on the privacy of Amsterdam residents and mutual cohesion in the city are underexposed. GroenLinks wonders whether there could be rules.

De Volkskrant - 20 Jan 2024 (paywalled)

Bleak people indeed! In the neighbourhood app, the suspicions thunder merrily on.

NRC - Jan 16, 2024 (paywalled)

Neighbour does not want to be filmed every time he walks down the street
A man has hung a camera above his window to keep an eye on his car. The neighbours just don't want to be filmed walking down the street. Can the camera be left hanging?

Allegiance opinion - Jan 16, 2024 (paywalled)

Smart doorbells are a danger to our society
Who is all watching the smart doorbell? Provide more information on this worrying phenomenon, argues Thijs Turèl, from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions.

NPO Radio 1 'This is the Day' - 16 Jan 2024

Are doorbell cameras actually completely legal?
Joram Kaat in conversation with Thijs Turèl, responsible for urban digitisation at AMS Institute and Karel van Engelenhoven, project leader Camera in Beeld at the police. - 20 Dec 2023

Judge rejects evidence with 'illegal' CCTV footage - 24 Oct 2023

Private surveillance cameras violate AVG en masse

The Guardian - 1 June 2023

Amazon's Ring doorbell was used to spy on customers, FTC says in privacy case

NordVPN - 21 May 2023

Ring doorbell security: can Ring be hacked?

Consumer Reports - 13 May 2021

Four New Video Doorbells and Home Security Cameras Are Vulnerable to Hacking

BBC News - 31 Dec 2020

Hacked home cams used to livestream police raids in swatting attacks

NOS - 6 Oct 2020

Privacy watchdog warns: don't turn on camera smart doorbell just like that

BBC News - 23 Nov 2020

Smart doorbells 'easy target for hackers' study finds

CNET - 2 April 2019

Smart home cameras bring facial recognition ethics to your front door

CNET - 14 Dec 2018

Amazon's Ring takes heat for considering facial recognition for its video doorbells